Monday, November 21, 2005

Tribes' Basketball Passion Turns Into Business

YAKIMA, Wash., Nov. 15 - The stands in the SunDome were unusually full Tuesday night when Yakima's minor league basketball team, the Sun Kings, bounded onto the court for an exhibition game a few days before the start of the season.

The crowd itself was atypical, too, filled with hundreds of members of the Yakama Nation, an Indian tribe that rarely mingles with the world outside its vast reservation about five miles east of here. But in a move that riveted tribes across the country and created a rift among Indians here, leading to the ousting of three tribal officials, the Yakama Nation became the new owners of the Sun Kings last spring.

And after Tuesday's game, the first at home under the new ownership, the Sun Kings signed an Indian player, a Sioux from Montana who had electrified the crowd with his dazzling shooting for the opposing team. The player, Richard Dionne, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound forward, is believed by officials to be the only American Indian on the roster of the Continental Basketball Association, a national eight-team league that can be a steppingstone to the N.B.A.

The tribal ownership of the team and the signing of Mr. Dionne, 24, who had been playing here for a nonprofit team not in the league, come as Indians are slowly making their way into college, semiprofessional and professional basketball.