A great man once told me to play defense

Walter Soboleff is known to have stated that the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament is “The grandpa of all tournaments.”


Recently, Joe Floyd, a member of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame, intimated to me that he once had the opportunity to be in Juneau on business and went to a few games. The sights and sounds inspired him so much that he stated he used multiple aspects of the tournament when forming the annual Joe Floyd Christmas Classic in Kodiak. Floyd stated he enjoyed the night even more when he met with Soboleff and chatted a bit about basketball, life, and, well, more basketball.

My discussions of Gold Medal basketball with Dr. Soboleff always ended with me being on the losing end. But they did always end with a smile.

Our very first conversation was Soboleff asking why I wasn’t out on the court playing.

I replied that they don’t give invitations to Petersburg anymore.

He stated that was because “Norwegians can’t shoot straight.”

I replied that I was Swedish.

To which he said without a hesitation, “And Swede’s can’t play defense.”

We then discussed some of the great Petersburg teams with players such as Nels Otness, Chet Otness, Ernie Enge, Tommy Thompson, Tommy Wanberg, Tom Lewis Rick Kito, Elder Lee, Ed Hagerman, Lloyd Pedersen, and Palmer Pedersen. We talked of Vikings’ greats Dick Longworth, Floyd Strand, Dave Ohmer, Bob Hammer, Stuart Jensen, and Chris Jensen. Among many others.

That conversation had left my memory after a few years, as discussions involved other players’ hoops deficiancies throughout Gold Medal tourneys

Until last tournament.

The Hoonah Masters team, of which I am so happy to be a part of, had just won the championship game. I was showered and smug (reliving the glory years) and now walked the baseline shooting photos of the remaining championships and, unfortunately for me, I would sometimes be in front of Dr. Soboleff’s view.

“Hey there,” Soboleff shouted from behind me. “When are you going to learn to play defense?”

The 66th Annual Gold Medal Basketball Tournament begins on Sunday. It will be one of the only tournaments the late Dr. Soboleff has missed.


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