‘Diamonds in the rough’: ESPN+ to stream NABI championship games
On Tuesday, the Native American Basketball Invite announced that its 19th Annual Semifinals and Championship Games would be streamed on the national sports platform ESPN+ on July 22 and 23.
According to the press release, this will be the first time an all-Native youth sporting event will be featured on a central sports network platform.
NABI president and CEO GinaMarie Scarpa said this would give Native athletes many opportunities, and she hopes this is just the beginning.
“To be able to put NABI, an all-Native American High School tournament, on a platform such as ESPN, it’s really showing the world that our kids are here, and they’re just as talented,” Scarpa said. “And there are these diamonds in the rough, so to speak, that need to be looked at and given the same opportunities (as these other athletes in bigger high schools). And that’s what NABI is doing.”
NABI’s primary goal is to get more exposure to Native kids, especially college recruiters. However, the past two years have been a struggle, with the NABI tournament being canceled in 2020 and low college scouts’ turnouts in 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
NABI has been active for 20 years and invites all Native kids from different tribes to come and showcase their skills, with athletes coming from Alaska to Phoenix. NABI is partnered with Native tribes, the Phoenix Suns, the Phoenix Mercury team, Nike, and ESPN.
Scarpa said that the games would also be streamed on the NABI network and its Facebook page to give Native families the chance to watch their kids play for free if they can’t afford ESPN+, for which a subscription is $6.99 per month, and an annual plan is $69.99.
Scarpa thanks executive producer Robert Judkins, whose contacts helped them connect with LTN Global, which streamed the NABI games last year and eventually led to them connecting with ESPN.
Scarpa said NABI experimented with streaming its games, uncertain how it would go, last year. She said they’d consider it a success if they could get 10,000 viewers. By the end of the week, they had 65,000, showing there is a large audience and that streaming games can work.
“We cried, me and Lynette Lewis, our tournament and programs director, cried when we got the news because we knew what we were doing,” Scarpa said. “We made history in 2007. We literally, I say that figuratively, but we literally fought the NCAA to allow us to be sanctioned as an event based on tribal sovereignty, not their same state rule, and we won that fight. So that was a big making history moment.
“And then this one is another history-making moment. But I think it’s bigger than the NCAA,” she said, “because we just created a platform where we don’t have to be NCAA certified.”
ESPN+ was launched in 2018 and has garnered over 22.3 million subscribers since then. It is also included in the Disney + pack and Hulu streaming services.
NABI week will begin on Sunday, July 17, comprising 136 teams of male and female athletes ranging from 14- to 19-year-olds. About 470 games are scheduled to play throughout the week at 11 different gyms in the Phoenix area.
Scarpa believes Native Americans and other people of color are getting more recognition, especially after recent years of exposure to the mistreatment of minorities.
As well as achievements such as “Basketball or Nothing,” a documentary about Navajo teens competing for the state title, winning best sports documentary of the year for 2020, beating works that featured legends like Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong, and Dwyane Wade.
“It’s been a drastic shift drastic in the last couple of years,” she said. “And yes, I truly believe that helps because we’ve been here for 20 years doing this.
“NABI has always been one of the biggest tournaments and highlight in our Native American community,” she said. “But I think the current climate over the last couple of years, and big corporations and media making it a part of their initiatives for inclusivity has really helped where we are today with NABI and ESPN.”
Although streaming the championship game on the platform would make it easier for people to watch, Scarpa encourages people to support the kids.
She adds that this is a historic moment for the organization, and she wants ESPN+ viewers to see the Native community come together and show the enthusiasm Native spectators are known for. Tickets and other information can be found on the NABI website.
For now, ESPN+ will just be streaming the final games of the tournament, but Scarpa hopes in the future they’d be interested in streaming all the games during the weeklong NABI event.
“I’m shooting a rocket to the moon,” Scarpa added. “But you know that’s what NABI does; we shoot rockets to the moon.”