What is Rezball?

Rezball is the very popular Native American version of basketball, short for “reservation ball”. It is a type of game specific to Native American teams of some areas.

What is rezball?

Rezball is transition-based basketball which involves quick shooting, high speed, aggressive play, and offense-like defense that looks to force turnovers through half-court traps or pressing. Programs can vary from one to another. Key to a good rezball offense are good condition and sound fundamentals.

Quite a few native Americans adapted to basketball this way. It is played as a way to avoid or reduce conflict on the reservation.

The game in the USA

In northeastern Arizona, the Pueblo, Apache, and Navajo tribes have a few high schools where rezball is played. There are also some in northwestern New Mexico. The sport is very popular and important here. Half of the biggest crowds at a boys’ basketball game in Arizona are rezball games irrespective of school size. One of them was the most-attended. This was a game played between Apache and Navajo schools.

The biggest high school arenas in Arizona are The Nash Center in Kayenta, the Ganado Pavilion (Burnside, AZ), and The Warrior Pavilion. There are also the Bee Hółdzil Fighting Scouts Events Center (Fort Defiance, AZ) and The Wildcat Den in Chinle.

These huge sites attract large crowds from all over the Navajo Reservation. Holbrook, Winslow, and Page are the border town teams for Arizona within the AIA 3A Division. It is comprised mostly of Native Americans.

A historical record for the game was achieved in 2013. The Wildcat Den hosted an Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) sectional tournament in March that year. It featured four boys’ and four girls’ reservation teams. The two-day event attracted over 12,000 people although neither Chinle High team took part in the sectional.

How to play Rezball

Before the event started, hundreds of fans arrived. They came hours earlier just to get the best seats.

The AIA’s state competition was scheduled later that month at a site that was called Jobing.com Arena at the time. It was the home stadium of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes. It reflected the impact of rezball.

The last game scheduled is the boys’ championship game in the largest enrollment class in most states that hold more than one state championship game at a single venue. In this case, they reserved the marquee slot for the girls’ title game in Class 3A, a categorization typically dominated by reservation schools. The biggest schools in the state are in Class 5A.

Nationally ranked schools

A lot of the schools ranked by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) are in New Mexico. The high schools in this state have been represented at more than 100 state championships in total. Each year, New Mexico builds on this sports tradition for students of all genders.

The biggest schools in New Mexico that are represented at these championships have stadiums at the Bronco Arena at Kirtland Central High School, the Pueblo Pavilion Santa Fe Indian School, and the Chieftain Pit at Shiprock High School. The rezball courts at Kirtland and Shiprock feature a unique glass going around them. In New Mexico, the border town teams are Gallup, Kirtland Central, and Santa Fe Indian. Again, they are mainly comprised of Native American members.

Rezball arena

Girls’ rezball powerhouses

New Mexico is well known nationwide for its powerhouses in girls rezball teams. These include teams from Shiprock, Kirtland Central, Santa Fe Indian, Gallup, Navajo Prep and Navajo Pine. The most successful team is Kirtland Central’s. They have more state championships than any other Native American high school.

Their biggest rival is Shiprock, who has been equally impactful on the sport. Gallup is definitely worth mentioning. It’s also a really good New Mexican team with passionate and skilled players. Navajo Pine, Navajo Prep, and Santa Fe Indian girls’ teams have produced some great talents in recent years and have enjoyed numerous achievements.

The high school New Mexico finals take place at The Pit, which is located on the campus of the University of New Mexico. Most games that have taken place here have been sold out, especially those between the two best rezball teams: Kirtland and Shiprock.   

Quite a number of Native American fans from Kirtland Central, Gallup, Shiprock, Laguna Acoma and Santa Fe Indian fill the stadium at The Pit every year.

Final thoughts

The Native American rezball phenomenon is not limited to the region of the Four Corners, albeit being dominant there. About 5,000 people traveled from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians reservation to Jackson for the game when the girls’ team from the reservation high school reached the Class 3A state tournament final in 2017. Needless to say, they won the final.

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