Australian Indigenous Basketball (AIB) is elevating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in competitive international basketball.
Established in 2014, the AIB is the recognised body for Indigenous basketball in Australia. The association formed after Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players created the AIB All Stars for the inaugural Trans-Tasman Basketball Series. The association continued to grow throughout 2015 and 2016, and in 2017, the AIB officially gained association status.
Vice-President of AIB and former women’s team head coach, Rick Baldwin, has a passion for basketball which traces back to his early years.
“My whole family from my mum’s side is from the Stolen Generations down near Lake Tyres Mission. I’ve lived and survived intergenerational trauma and I had a horrific childhood. I grew up angry and some of my friends ended up in prison, but I ended up playing basketball, winning national championships,” he said.
“I had two Aboriginal Elders grab me and [say], ‘You need to start worrying about your own people.’ That was like an awakening for me.”
Last year the AIB’s women’s team made history, taking home the first gold medal for Indigenous basketball at an international tournament. The youngest team in the tournament, the women claimed gold in New Zealand against Hawaii.
“The Victorian State Government put a lunch on in honour of us and that was a special day … now we’re in the Victorian State Parliament, a big glass showcase about us,” said Baldwin.
The AIB gives mob another opportunity to represent Australia, along with their mob and culture.
“With Australian Indigenous Basketball, it’s a second pipeline. Not everyone is going to represent the green and gold, that’s just not possible. But with Australian Indigenous Basketball, to many of our players, it means more to them to represent their community and their mob,” said Baldwin.
“Unfortunately, in Victoria even though Basketball Victoria are the biggest peak body in the Southern Hemisphere and have a high rate of participation, they have no pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids.”
“These kids love their basketball but there are no pathways for them. There are barriers and obstacles and the AFL know this and so they are miles ahead [in recruiting].”
Stepping down from his head coach position, Baldwin is establishing his own organisation which will partner with the AIB, the Koorie Basketball Academy.
“I’ll be going around the local Victorian Aboriginal community doing clinics with that. I’ve already chased up a lot of sponsorships, I’ve got the kids t-shirts, hoodies and drink bottles,” Baldwin said.
“Koorie Basketball Academy will be about inclusion, there will be a connection to culture. I’ll take the kids down on Country and I’ll teach them how to make clapsticks, spears.
“That is really important for me, the kids have a connection to their culture, their learning about it and we can sit around in a yarning circle and if they have any problems there’s a place they can heal and we have their back.”
Baldwin believes the academy can encourage self-determination for the kids involved.
“We believe in them. All I want from the kids is they need to go to school, they need to do their homework, I teach them about eating healthy … it’s all about education. A lot of the kids come from broken families and some of the stories are horrific,” he said.
“I think it’s important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids to know that they are loved. There are people out there who care, and I’m doing what I can to make a difference.”
With dedication and passion, Baldwin is pushing to empower and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in their basketball careers.
“Apart from my [own] kids, it’s the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done, being able to give back to my people,” he said.
“If we can reach out to a few kids and change their lives, it’s worth it all.”
By Rachael Knowles