A great man 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.

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.

That conversation had left my memory after a few years, as discussions involved other players’ hoops deficiancies.

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 now on 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 said to me. “When are you going to learn to play defense?”


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