Chapters 20-24 Summary and Analysis
Convinced that he is not a good enough player, Junior almost does not try out for the Reardan basketball team, but his father encourages him to "dream big." There are forty boys trying out, and as there is no budget for a C squad this year, sixteen of the hopefuls will have to be cut. Coach is a decent guy and tells the boys that they are to play with dignity and respect, and that they will be treated with dignity and respect, no matter what happens. He then begins the first drill, which is to run a hundred laps around the gym, and before it is over, four boys drop out of their own accord. The players are then instructed to play full-court one-on-one. Junior is paired with Roger, who, as a senior, is much larger and is a star player. Junior takes a beating, but refuses to quit and impresses Coach with his tenacity and skillful shooting. Roger and Junior play hard, and Junior ends up making varsity; Coach says he is "the best shooter who'd ever played for him."
Ironically, Reardan's first game is against Wellpinit High, the school Junior was supposed to have attended on the rez. When the team arrives at the gym, the reservation basketball fans are chanting, "Ar-nold sucks! Ar-nold sucks!" Junior notes immediately that they are calling him by his Reardan name instead of his rez name, and feels intimidated until he sees his parents and grandma at the door. Even though Coach tells Junior he does not have to play this one, Junior is determined and inspired by his family, who are there "ready to walk through the crap with (him)." When Junior enters the gym, the fans fall silent, and, as one, turn their backs on him. Junior and his team are impressed with this preorchestrated display of contempt; Junior is at first angry, then, reflecting that "if these dang Indians had been this organized when (he) went to school here, maybe (he) would have had more reasons to stay," he begins to laugh, and Coach and his teammates laugh with him. Besides his family, the only Indian who has not turned his back on Junior is Rowdy, who stands glaring at the opposite end of the court, challenging Junior face-to-face. Halfway through the first quarter, Coach sends Junior in to play, and immediately, someone in the crowd throws a quarter at him, hitting him in the forehead and drawing blood. Furious, Junior is forced to return to the locker room, where Eugene, who had been a basketball legend in his own time and now works as an emergency medical technician, offers to drive him to Spokane to get stitched up. Resolutely focused on getting into the game, Junior convinces Eugene to stitch him up right there, and in the third quarter, Coach puts Junior in to play once again. Junior steals a pass and drives for a layup, and is knocked unconscious by a hard smash from Rowdy. A melee ensues, and the referees, terrified of the crowd, penalize Reardan. Wellpinit wins the game by thirty points, and Junior ends up in the hospital with a concussion. Coach visits Junior in the hospital after the game and stays to keep him company; the two share stories until dawn.
On Christmas, Junior's dad, depressed that he cannot afford presents for the family, takes what little money they do have and gets drunk. He returns after the first of the year and gives Junior "a wrinkled and damp five dollar bill" he has saved just for him. Junior, angry at his father for abandoning the family during the holidays but knowing how much he must have wanted to spend the money, swallows his bitterness, seeing in the gift "a beautiful and ugly thing."
In comparing life at Wellpinit versus Reardan, Junior concludes that although it is "slightly better to live in Reardan than Wellpinit, there are good and bad aspects to both." Despite the poverty and lack of opportunity on the reservation, the people whom Junior loves most have their roots there. Junior's sister, parents, and grandma are from the reservation, and Junior realizes that, in spite of their shortcomings, his "folks are...
(The entire section is 1,821 words.)