Presented by Jermaine Robert Harrison Matthews


Harrison’s heritage an NBA rarity

During his NBA career, Bob Harrison achieved elite status as an All-Star and three-time champion. However, he holds one distinction that is rarer by far: He is one of, at most, only a few American Indians who have played in the league.

Although various sources say no such individuals have entered the NBA in its 60-plus-year history, Harrison is the son of a Winnebago tribesman from the Wisconsin-Minnesota area.

While never having made “a big deal” of his heritage, Harrison (whose mother was of Scots-English ancestry) said he has inquired regarding the league’s total number of American Indian players. To date, he has received no information.

While with the Lakers, Harrison served as president of the Minnesota-based North American Indian Society in 1951-52. Also during his time in Minneapolis, on a night when Harrison was honored by his team, a number of local tribes presented him with a deerskin jacket. “I thought that was wonderful that they did that,” he said.

In that city and when he was with Syracuse, Harrison said: “A bunch of the Indians from (those areas) would sit in the end zone and cheer for me. I was really pleased.”

On at least a couple of occasions, Harrison experienced bigotry – albeit because of what he surmises were cases of mistaken ethnicity. “I tan,” he said. “I get real dark in the summer.” Whatever the reason, while on two week’s leave from the Marine Corps after completing boot camp in the mid-1940s, Harrison once was ordered to “the back of the train” during a stop in Washington, D.C., he said. Afterward, when some fellow Marines came to find him, “I told them what happened, and they came back and sat with me,” he said. “It made me feel good about my friends, it sure did.”

Then, when Harrison was coaching at Kenyon College in the late 1950s, he took the tennis team, which he also helmed, on a Southern road trip. Before a match in Kentucky, he took his players to a movie. After paying their admission, he said, he was directed to a separate entrance, which, as it turned out, led to the racially segregated balcony. Upon learning of this, Harrison’s team decided to forgo the film, so Harrison received a refund and they returned to their dormitory lodgings.

Meanwhile, Harrison witnessed confusion-free prejudice while in Minneapolis in the early ’50s. One summer day, during the offseason, he was part of an American Indian team that played (and won) a charity softball game versus local media personalities. Afterward, he said, he took his club to bar where the owner told him: “‘Bob, I hate to tell you this. I can serve you, but I can’t serve them.’ I said, ‘Why? I’m part Indian, too; I’m half-Indian.’ He said: ‘I’m sorry. I can’t do it.’ So I told the guys, ‘We’re leaving.’

“That was a real letdown for me. Because I played basketball, why did they say, ‘It’s OK for you, but not them’? That really bothered me.”


Small footnote on John Harrison

In the Winnebago tribe book from Paul radin. I found this little footnote when I was trying to locate some Grizzly bear songs he had shared. On pg.64 you will find at the bottom where Paul Radin says that John Harrisons grandfather was a Dakota Indian. This is because of the account he gave of a buffalo hunt also on pg 64. Paul Radin also goes to say that John Harrison was a “exceedingly Unreliable source.” I feel Paul Radin felt this way because unlike the other informants he wasn’t as willing to pass on sacred information like the others.

John Raves account of John Harrison

John Harrison and Squeaking-Wings were prominent members of the medicine dance; they thought much of themselves as did all the members of the medicine dance. They knew everything connected with this medicine dance. Both of them were gamblers and were rich because they had won very much in gambling. Their parents had acquired great possessions by giving medicines to the people. They were rich and they believed that they had a right to be selfish with their possessions. Then they ate peyote and ever since that time they have been followers of this medicine. They were really very ill and now they have been cured of it. Now if there are any men that might be taken as examples of the peyote, it is these three. Even if a man were blind and only heard about them he would realize that if any medicine were good, it is this medicine. It is a cure for all evil. Before, I had thought that I knew something but I really knew nothing. It is only now that I have real knowledge. In my former life I was like one blind and deaf. My heart ached when I thought of what I had been doing. Never again will I do it. This medicine alone is holy and has made me good and has rid me of all evil. The one whom they call God has given me this. That I know positively. Let them all come here; men and women; let them bring with them all that they desire; let them bring with them their diseases. If they come here they will get well. This is all true; it is all true. Bring whatever desires you possess along with you and then come and eat or drink this medicine. This is life, the only life. Then you will learn

p. 345′

Here is an account of John Rave by oliver LamereJohn Rave belongs to the Bear clan, the members of which had the functions of what might be called sergeants-at-arms. He and his ancestors used to be in charge of the manupetci (i.e., the sergeants-at-arms lodge), to which all malefactors would be brought for punishment.

Rave, although he belonged to this highly respected class of people, was a bad man. He roamed from place to place. He has participated in all the ceremonies of the Winnebago, the medicine dance alone excepted. He had been married many times. Up to 1901 he was a heavy drinker. In that year he went to Oklahoma and while there ate the peyote. He then returned to the Winnebago and tried to introduce it among them, but none with the exception of a few relatives would have anything to do with it. This did not in any way discourage him, however, and he continued using the peyote, now and then getting a few converts.

*My personal note
I feel John Rave was trying to find more support for his new religious congrigation by getting people like John Harrison and Squeaking wing as converts.