, who has grown up knowing that his race and his poverty, not to mention his physical disability, have put him at a disadvantage in the world—being, as he puts it, “a loser Indian son living in a world built for winners”—basketball
represents a much fairer, meritocratic system in which everyone starts off equally and people succeed thanks to their own hard work and skill. Unlike the wider world, where a smart woman like Junior’s mom
or a great basketball player like Eugene
can’t go to college because they can’t afford the tuition and don’t have the preliminary education to get there, and unlike the classroom, where Mr. Dodge
ignores Junior’s contribution because he’s Indian, the basketball court is a place where Junior’s commitment and shooting talent make him one of the most valuable players on the team, even though he is shorter and skinnier than all the other boys. It’s when he’s playing basketball that Junior hears and believes the words “You can do it”—this is one place where all his hopes and dreams really are within his reach. Meanwhile, the excitement people feel over basketball transcends class and race—Junior’s dad
hugs and kisses the white
man next to him “like they were brothers” after Junior’s big three-pointer against Wellpinit—and Coach
pledges to treat all of his players with dignity and respect, directly counter to forces like poverty and racism that specifically deny people those qualities.