Two Nisga’a members were part of the All-Native team that took home gold in basketball at the Pan Pacific Masters Games in Gold Coast, Australia this month.
Dave Griffin from Gitwinksihlkw and George Robinson from Gitlaxt’aamiks, joined five other team members to compete in the 50 and over category in the world’s biggest masters games — proving to everyone that age is indeed just a number.
“I think it’s nice to come home and share with your friends that the sport doesn’t have to end,” says Griffin. “As long as you have the will to play, there’s a place to play and you can still feed that competitive spirit.”
For seven days straight, the All Native Warriors team dribbled their way to first place without ever playing as a team until the games. Coming from across B.C. and Alberta, the players kept in touch online to organize the tournament and encourage one another to stay in shape.
“We knew what we could bring as individuals, and we got stronger with every game,” says Griffin. “We complemented each other well and had a lot of fun.”
Griffin says that many members knew of each other or have competed against one another at some point during their sporting days, so it was interesting to see how they meshed together. They claimed the top title by defeating the Melbourne Jets by 14 points.
“Every single player was a team-first player, there was no ego — we were just playing for the love of the game and everyone’s skills were able to shine,” says Griffin.
The Pan Pacific Games was held between Nov. 2 – 11, with 42 different sports and more than 15,000 different athletes from around the world. The tournaments were held in the facility that hosted this year’s Commonwealth Games. The All Native Warriors were the only Canadian team in their division.
Griffin and Robinson both grew up playing basketball in the Nass Valley and oftentimes were opponents when playing minor leagues in school. Griffin says having the chance to play together built up their mutual respect.
This is the second master’s tournament the team took part in. The first one was in Auckland, New Zealand two years ago where the team placed fourth. Robinson says it was eyeopening for the team to realize they played just as well as other nations and decided they would come back for another try, with their goal to be in the top three.
”We wanted to show our own, all of our nations in B.C., that it can be done,” says Robinson. “We got the guys together who wanted to play, saved up some money and off we went.”
They also received a grant from the Nisga’a government to financially support their trip overseas, along with their communities who helped them with some of the costs. Griffin says they’ve received a lot of positive social media messages from everyone who was following their journey abroad. He says they hope to give back by encouraging more people in their nations to compete on a higher level.
Robinson says they’ve thought about going back to the Gold Coast in 2020 to defend their title at the Pan Pacific Masters Games and are even considering competing in Japan for the World Games in 2022. It may be a few years away, but he says winning first place this year was, “like waking up to Christmas morning,” and now anything is possible.
When they weren’t shooting hoops, the All Natives did take some time to soak up the sun. They parasailed, jet-skiied, snorkelled through coral reefs and even cuddled with a few koalas.
“If you’re going to go halfway around the world, you better take in some of the sights,” says Griffin. “It’s funny over there, you can pet a kangaroo there in the morning and then make a steak out of them at night.”