Though his sneakers make a large squeak on the hardwood, Ron Baker (Citizen Potawatomi Nation) has quietly become Indian country’s newest athlete to reach the NBA.
The New York Knicks have reportedly decided to guarantee a one-year deal and will retain Baker for the 2016-17 season.
The 23-year-old, 6-foot-3, 218-pound point guard was undrafted free agent who made the Knicks roster this season. Baker’s used to going up against the odds: he was a walk-on at Wichita State who became a Wooden Award finalist as one of the top players in the country. It was there he also led his team to an NCAA Tournament Final Four in 2013.
Baker played a career-high 25 minutes on Monday, January 9, against the New Orleans Pelicans. On Jan. 6, Baker led the Knicks to a comeback win over the Milwaukee Bucks, 116-111. He’s averaging 3.3 points, 1.3 assists and 1.5 rebounds per game while averaging 9.3 minutes.
The Knicks, coached by Jeff Hornacek are 18-22 as of Jan. 13. They are hovering at the 10-spot in the Eastern Conference, needing a good run down the stretch to make the playoffs.
Few Native Americans have ever reached the NBA, particularly those enrolled in federally recognized tribes like Baker.
His fellow tribal members of his tribe have expressed support. Felicia Butler, college student at Haskell Indian Nations University, told the Haskell Indian Leader in 2015, “Ron has made me want to become something and be able to represent my tribe in a positive manner.”
Other NBA players who have expressed their Native American ancestry are Bison Dele (Cherokee, 1991-99), Cherokee Parks (Cherokee, 1995-2003) and Phil Jordon (Wailaki and Nomlaki, 1956-63).