Thorpe played basketball too

In March 2005 Anthony Barone, Jr. found a ticket in a book he had purchased for $6.00 at an auction. What is remarkable about this unusual event is that a ticket to a March 1, 1927 basketball game involving Jim Thorpe and his World Famous Indians dropped out of the book. Big Jim’s involvement in March Madness is not much known about today although it was covered in newspapers of the day.

When Jim first started playing basketball is not known. The first known documentation of his playing on the Freshman Class and Carlisle Indian School varsity teams in January 1909. So, Jim played hoops competitively long before the ticket date. If he played competitively after the 1909 season is not known either. However, he definitely played in 1927.

That he had formed the World Famous Indians or Oorang Indians, as they were sometimes referred to, was widely reported in November 1926. Also reported were the names of his teammates:

  • Raymond West, “Light Foot,” Cheyenne, forward
  • Dennis Hildebrand, “Eagle Feather,” Cherokee, guard probably
  • Leo Wapp, “Running Hawk,” Sac and Fox, guard
  • Jess Parton, “Swift Deer,” Delaware, forward
  • Dale Peters, college player from Indiana, center
  • Fred Cooke, college player from Indiana, guard

Although the team was advertised as being an Indian team, the closest two of the team’s stars got to being Indians was to have lived in Indiana. The WFI played a heavy schedule of games in the Midwest and east. At 39, Jim was nearing the end of his competitive athletic career so didn’t play full games as he had when he was young. A quarter of intense exercise on the court was enough for him. As of March 31, 1927 Jim Thorpe’s hoopsters were 42-14 with the season not yet finished and baseball just around the corner. Instead of barnstorming with an all-Indian team that summer, Jim played baseball with a team of college players he and Ohio State University star Chic Harley put together.

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11 Responses to “Thorpe played basketball too”

  1. anthony barone Says:

    […] a ticket to a March 1, 1927 basketball game involving Jim Thorpe and his World Famous Indians droppe of those arrested, charged in today’s Gambino Family sweep Daily Record??? Andrew Merola […]

  2. Todd Says:

    Very interesting information about Jim Thorpe. I was especially intrigued about your mention of Thorpe putting together a team with Chic Harley. Can you tell me your source for that? I’d like to know more.

  3. tombenjey Says:

    Memory being what it is, I couldn’t recall offhand where I found that, so did a quick search of The June 17, 1927 edition of The Charleston West Virginia Gazette contained an article titled “Thorpe and Harley’s Collegians to Battle Senators Here Today.” According to a reporter who wrote under the byline of The Shadow, Thorpe and Harley put together a team of college baseball stars to barnstorm smaller cities and play local teams. That day they were to play the Charleston Senators at Kanawha Park.

  4. john liffmann Says:

    I have a letter from 1926 by the owner of the Oorang Indians to George Halas trying to set up an exhibition basketball game between the Chicago Bears and the World famous Indians basketball team including Jim Thorpe.

  5. M Cooper Says:

    Was searching for info on my grandfather (Dennis Hilderbrand) and came across this article. The writer erroneously states that the closest any of them came to being Indian was living in Indiana. I’m wonder where he got his information? Dennis Hilderbrand was registered on the tribal roll, as well as his daughter (my mother). They looked very much native american and they were registered on tribal rolls. So where did you get this info?

  6. tombenjey Says:

    It’s been so long since I wrote this that I don’t remember where I got the information. Which tribe was Dennis Hildebrand a member of?

  7. Basketball-Fan Says:

    Nice discussion about sports history, do you know if in the 1920s there were also many basket ball clubs there?

    • tombenjey Says:

      I don’t know which “there” you’re interested in knowing about. It it’s the Carlisle Indian School, the answer is no because it was no longer in existence. However, its basketball teams played other schools and clubs in the area before it closed in 1918. By the 1920s, basketball teams played at schools, YMCAs, and other organizations across the country.

  8. James Thorpe Kossakowski Says:

    Excellent find! Jim Thorpe was excellent in most sports. He was also offered a contract to play ice hockey in Canada.

    • tombenjey Says:

      I believe that I included that in my chapter on Thorpe in “Doctors, Lawyers, Indian Chiefs.” Something I don’t think anyone else found is that he sold the movie rights to his wedding with Iva Miller.

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