On a Sunday afternoon at Mount Jumbo gym, John Martin gets a pass from his teammate during a pickup basketball game. He shoots the ball and drains a 3-pointer.
At 72, Martin is looking healthy and still plays competitive basketball. While most people his age retired their basketball shoes for good, Martin continues playing and enjoying the game. He credits basketball with helping keep his diabetes in check and benefiting his overall health.
"As long as the blood flows and the heart is strong, you can still play," Martin said.
Here at the gym, he is just one of the guys. Few know of his basketball history or what the game has meant to him.
His oldest son, 45-year-old John Martin Jr., grew up playing basketball in Juneau. He talked candidly about his father's influence on him.
"As kids we would play seven days a week at the Switzer Creek outside courts," Martin Jr. said. "Dad had us all playing at an early age. I played on the sixth-grade team as a fourth grader because I was better than the kids my age."
His dad was always coaching and trying to help people play better. As the patriarch of a basketball playing family, the elder Martin's influence was immeasurable. His influence also goes beyond the basketball court.
"My dad is a tribal leader and elder. Probably one of the most fluent Tlingits alive," Martin Jr. said.
His father grew up in a home where Tlingit was the first language and English the second. He attended boarding schools as a student, but during the summers he returned to a household where the elders spoke only Tlingit to him.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
The window sills of John Martin's house are filled with trophies, serving as a testament to a lifetime of playing basketball. All of the trophies were won by him, his sons and grandson.
He has four sons and one grandson who all play basketball fiercely and are veterans of the Juneau Lions Club Gold Medal Tournament. Sons John Martin Jr., James Martin and twins Showalter and Garvin Martin, along with grandson James Wilson, are well known by Gold Medal and Alaska high school basketball fans.
His oldest son, John Martin Jr., won a state championship with East Anchorage High School in 1982. Younger sons James, Showalter and Garvin played for Mount Edgecumbe High School and won a Class 3A Southeast championship in 1985. His grandson, James, was part of the Crimson Bears' last state championship team in 1998.
The elder Martin's sons and grandson all participated in the Gold Medal tournaments for Hoonah and have been part of numerous championship teams.
In 2001, all the family members played together on a Tenakee Tribe team that won the Gold Medal A-Bracket championship. One of the highlights of the tournament happened when senior John Martin, who was coaching the team, put on a jersey in the fourth quarter and took the court with his sons and grandson. He also drained a jump shot.
This was a special moment for Martin, his sons and grandson - three generations on the Gold Medal hardwood.
LOVE OF THE GAME STARTED EARLY
His introduction to basketball came as an 8-year-old in Hoonah.
He recalls that the Icy Straits Cannery hired some of the seniors from the Juneau High School squad. The Crimson Bears players put up a piece of wood for a backboard, welded a hoop together and attached a piece of fishing net to it. He watched the older boys play on the wooden dock at the Icy Straits Cannery, and he would run for loose balls.
John Martin the elder talks fondly about his memories of Gold Medal and how it brought the community together.
"All the players knew each other and there was a comradeship among the players," he said.
He said the Ice Strait Cannery and local fishing boat captains supported the Hoonah team. These businesses and fishermen donated money to buy team jackets, which sometimes had the names of fishing boats and canneries on the back of them.
TRAVELING BY BOAT
In the old days, teams traveled to Gold Medal by fishing boat. Bill Bean, 69 and a Gold Medal Hall of Fame member, played for the Kake ANB team from 1965 to 1973 and remembered making the 12-hour trip from Kake to Juneau via boat. There was no ferry in those days and traveling aboard fishing vessels was the only option for teams.
Bean remembered traveling to Angoon, Hoonah, Petersburg, Metlakatla and Wrangell by fishing boat to play basketball in the lead-up to Gold Medal.
"When we would go to the villages to play, they would have a big potluck for the players. The hospitality was always very good," Bean said. "Everybody trained for Gold Medal. That was our March Madness."
Bean recalled crowds often gathered to watch home practices in preparation for Gold Medal.
"All the old-timers would be there watching us and yelling at us if we didn't play hard enough," he said.
Bean noted Hoonah always had one of the best teams.
John Martin also recalled traveling by fishing boat with the Hoonah team.
"The crew members would clean the hold (where the fish are stored) and put planks and a flooring down and a heater. They would have a platform to put their sleeping bags. It was really innovative," Martin said.
On one trip to Haines, the north wind blew and they encountered 8-foot waves on their voyage to play basketball.
Basketball was part of the life of the villages and Gold Medal was the finale of the year.
Bean recalled playing Martin one year when the Kake ANB team took on Martin's Sitka Lions in the championship game of the Gold Medal tournament in the late 1960s.
"They beat us on Thursday and we wound up beating them Friday," Bean said. "Sitka had a good team they had all the Sheldon Jackson (School) players."
Bean remembered playing against Martin.
"He played defense real hard. He would bump you around if you weren't careful. He had an outside set shot that was fairly decent. He was always up for games. He really liked the game."
From 1955-2007, Martin played on six Gold Medal teams including Hoonah ANB, Klukwan ANB, Juneau's Mason Chevron, Sitka Lions, Tenakee Tribe and a Sealaska team. Martin's involvement in Gold Medal spans 52 years as a player, coach and spectator.
Martin continues to play and has always been a 3-point specialist. He won the Gold Medal 3-point contest in 1985. At age 49, he beat out two college basketball players from the University of Alaska Southeast Humpback Whales team. He also remains active in the Mt. Jumbo Master's Basketball League for players 45-and-older. He holds the record for most points scored in a Master's League game after he poured in a remarkable 71 points that included 16 3-pointers.
Martin also continues to support local basketball as a fan and mentor.
Rudy Bean, a six-time Gold Medal MVP, is another player influenced by Martin over the years. This year, Martin attended many of Bean's city league basketball games in Juneau. Bean's team, Specs in the City, won the Juneau Parks and Recreation Adult Ordway Division I championship, which is the most competitive level for recreational players in Juneau.
After his team won the tournament, Bean gave Martin one of their team's championship T-shirts.
Bean calls Martin an inspiration.
"He was our biggest fan," Bean said. "He not only loves basketball but he loves to watch good Native basketball players. He's a staunch supporter of Native ball."
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