Joseph Burton Jr. was recently inducted into the North American Indigenous Athletics Hall of Fame for his prowess on the basketball court. A member of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, Burton was raised on the reservation and continues to live there during his sport’s off season.
The North American Indigenous Athletics Hall of Fame honors and recognizes the indigenous sport cultures of 27 countries of North America by recognizing outstanding leadership and achievement in individual and team athletics. By honoring and celebrating the empowered journey of the annually inducted individuals and teams, the hope is their stories may inspire future generations to follow their dreams in athletics and life.
Burton currently plays in the French FFBB league for Orchies NM1 Basketball. Averaging 21.8 points, 11.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists, he is ultimately highly ranked with 30+ efficiency. He is in France for 10 months out of the year with preseason, regular season and playoffs.
He is grateful that his family is able to join him in France often. Wife DaiseJanay Burton, six-year-old son Joseph Charles Lee Burton and three-year-old daughter Loovi No$uun Burton usually stay for a half or full season.
“They’re with me right now,” he said. “But then the kids start to miss being back home and also the family misses the kids, so they return to Soboba; nothing beats the rez life.”
Burton started playing sports at the age of four, being coached and mentored by his mother Dondi Silvas, his grandfather Charles “B-Bop” Silvas, aunts and uncles. He played basketball at West Valley High School in Hemet where he was four-time MVP, four-time All Sun Belt league champion, and CIF Champion 2008. He continued on to Oregon State University with a full ride basketball scholarship, known as the first Native American in OSU history to receive a basketball scholarship.
At OSU, he was acknowledged as the first non-guard to record 1000+ points, 700+ rebounds and 300+ assists. While at OSU he visited the White House and met President Barack Obama on several occasions. He also worked closely with Coach Robinson to introduce the N7 games to OSU basketball in honor of indigenous culture, moreover, becoming an ambassador for Nike N7.
“It was a great honor that Sam McCracken, another inducted Hall of Famer, started N7 and came to me while I was at OSU and wanted to have a game there,” Burton said. “Knowing I was Native, he thought it would be a great opportunity and I’m always there to spread awareness and honor my culture. It was great to have a game in honor of Natives.”
Upon graduating from OSU in 2013, Joseph continued his professional basketball career overseas starting in Denmark playing for Aalborg Vikings. In the past nine years Joseph has played professional basketball in the Netherlands, Japan, Finland and France. While playing in the French LNB league he has competed at Pro A and Pro B level, being awarded MVP in 2016 and runner-up in 2017.
Burton said there is no language barrier playing in other countries because they have a superb education system where students learn English in elementary school.
When he is able to return to Soboba, Burton stays busy with his Hunwut Clothing line, which he launched in 2019. Hunwut means Bear in Luiseño, his native language. He also gets involved with youth sports. Most recently, he assisted with a basketball camp at the Soboba Sports Complex.
“I would like to hold an annual basketball camp in honor of my grandpa, Charles “B-Bop” Silvas, who was a legend in the valley,” Burton said. Silvas started coaching frosh/soph football at San Jacinto High School, his alma mater, in 1978 and also coached boys and girls basketball and softball teams there. Silvas was one of the first inductees into the high school's Edward Hyatt Athletic Hall of Fame. He also coached women’s basketball at Mt. San Jacinto College for two years and helped coach West Valley High School boys basketball from 2006 to 2009.
When Burton took a year off from playing, he volunteered to assist West Valley High School Head Coach Kristopher Brooks with the boys basketball team. “Kris was my classmate and one of my teammates in high school,” Burton recalled. “We won the CIF title in 2008 together. He told me I could volunteer as an assistant coach because I bring a lot to the game and the coaching staff.”
Burton said that opportunity helped him see the game from the coaching standpoint which was very helpful since coaching is something he wants to do when he is done playing the game. He said some of the players he helped coach still write to him and he said it’s tough being so far away. “I still give them tips and drills. You have a bond once you have been with these kids for the basketball season. It’s great to see them growing in their skills, but when I get back, it’s the summer and that’s where the work happens.”
When working with young players, Burton said the best thing they can bring to the game is to be “coachable” and stick to the basics. “They need to keep the same mindset of ‘I’m going to get better today.’ Also it’s a different type of ball now, but I still tell them they all start with basic skills,” he said.
When he was young, Burton played baseball, soccer, flag football, basketball and volleyball in high school. Although really good in baseball and basketball, it was difficult to balance travel ball for both sports so he chose to focus on basketball.
“Also, when I got hit in the side with a baseball I said ‘okay, chuck the bat and pass me a basketball,’” he laughingly said. “But really, my family was a sports family, and the main sport was basketball, so I loved it from the very first time I saw a game.”
Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians