Joey Nelson may have been the only one surprised to learn he was to be inducted this year into the All Native Basketball Tournament’s (ANBT) Hall of Fame. A consummate team player with a strong work ethic, he was by all accounts a dominating force on the basketball court before injuries sidelined him after more than 20 years of playing.
The All-Native Basketball Tournament is widely regarded as the largest basketball tournament in BC, and the largest indigenous cultural event in Canada. The tournament has been running for 58 years, and competition between teams is fierce, with decades-long rivalries and bragging rights at stake. More than 50 men’s and women’s teams—about 600 athletes in total—competed this year, and around 4,000 people attended. It is a huge honour to be inducted into the tournament’s Hall of Fame.
Since the 1940s, basketball has been the team sport among indigenous communities, and Joey began attending the ANBT with his grandfather when he was just six years old. His grandfather would transport players and teams to the tournament games in Kitkatla and Port Simpson before it was held in Prince Rupert. Joey would join him and they’d watch the games together.
Tall and strong with “hands the size of baseball mitts,” he joined the basketball team in high school and played centre. He and several other First Nations players on the team decided to form their own All Native team, the Prince Rupert Trojans, and entered to play in the ANBT. His skill was such that he was awarded a basketball scholarship to Grand Prairie Regional College in Alberta in 1981, where he earned a second-year heavy duty mechanics certificate in just one year. Missing the North Coast, he moved back to work on the water. He kept playing in the ANBT too, winning two senior championships in 1984 and 1985, and taking home MVP honours in ’84.
His relationship with WCMRC began around the same time, when the boat he was working on joined FOSET. Since then, Joey has become an integral part of the WCMRC team, working closely with outside communities and within WCMRC to train in spill recovery, booming and vessel operations. Over the years, Joey has worked on more than 15 recovery operations, from Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico to Bella Bella, running boats, teams and boom.
His co-workers know him as a hard worker who brings an incredible sense of calm to every situation. He is a natural leader and a great instructor, able to quietly assess and take control of a situation to support his teams in doing their best work. He is widely regarded as the best boom operator on the Coast.
“On the water, at work, he’s the guy you want on your team,” says Robert Stromdahl, WCMRC Area Manager for the North Coast. “Whether you’re sport fishing or commercial fishing or booming or surviving, he’s got your back.”
Joey became a WCMRC employee one and a half years ago, and hasn’t looked back.
“I’m happy to see WCMRC grow,” he says. “I’m a fisherman and I want to protect our waters, our coast.”
Regardless of his work schedule, he attends the ANBT most years, drawn by the sense of community and the friendships he has built throughout his life. He now represents WCMRC at the event, manning the booth between games.
“Basketball is a team sport, and WCMRC is a team too,” says Joey. “I’m just a player who is doing his part to win the game we play.”