HARDIN — In life, greatness followed Larry Pretty Weasel wherever he went. In death, greatness will be his enduring legacy.
Pretty Weasel, a prominent and transcendent figure in Montana high school basketball, passed away suddenly at his home in Crow Agency on Sunday, MTN Sports learned. He was 84.
Pretty Weasel was a star at Hardin High School in the 1950s, bringing recognition to basketball on Montana’s reservations. Standing only 5-foot-10, Pretty Weasel was known for his quickness, jumping ability and dexterity.
He was renowned as a trailblazer for Native basketball players, establishing a precedent that is still more than 60 years later. Pretty Weasel is a legend in Crow Country and in high school basketball circles across Montana.
"Imagine being talked about 30, 40, 50 years after you're done," said Josh Stewart, a member of the Crow tribe and the head boys basketball coach at Lodge Grass. "He was a simple, humble, Apsáalooke man, but he was so much more than that.
"It certainly felt that way when Larry walked into a room. And I think that just shows a different level. That's a different human being right there. That's a different warrior. That's someone that just had greatness within them."
Fans would flock to gymnasiums across eastern Montana to get a glimpse of Pretty Weasel. Hardin placed third at the 1957 Class A state tournament, losing to eventual champion Sidney 60-59 in the semifinals. Pretty Weasel scored 128 points in four tournament games, including 48 in Hardin’s consolation win over Billings Central.
Pretty Weasel earned all-state honors, scoring 712 points during his senior year (29.4 per game). In 15 conference games, he averaged 31 points, which included a 54-point outing. Opponents struggled to contain Pretty Weasel’s ability to change hands on his jump shot in mid-air, depending on how he was being defended.
Hardin retired Pretty Weasel’s No. 29 jersey and the Montana High School Association inducted him into its hall of fame in 1993. The Montana Indian Athletic Hall of Fame made him part of its first class of inductees in 2007.
George Grover, a former teammate of Pretty Weasel, once described Pretty Weasel's innate abilities to MTN Sports.
"Larry wasn’t very tall, he was only about 5-10. But he could jump," Grover said. "Toby Kangas coached at Sidney and they’re the ones that beat us in the semifinals, and he said that Larry had the quickest first two steps of anybody he had ever seen, said he could fake anybody out because those first two steps were so quick.
"He was a team player. If he didn’t get a shot, he would pass it and move around. And then he knew that eventually if somebody else didn’t get a shot, he was going to get one anyway."
Said Grover: “Elvis Old Bull and Jonathan Takes Enemy and (George) Yellow Eyes at the state school, I saw all them play. And Larry was a head above them. They were good, but Larry was a head above them, I always thought.”
Pretty Weasel was also a state high jump champion at Hardin and was named Montana’s most outstanding athlete. Big-time colleges — including Utah and Texas A&M — recruited him, but Pretty Weasel decided to play at Rocky Mountain College. He ultimately returned to the Crow Reservation.
Mike Chavez, an all-time Native great who works in behavioral intervention at Hardin Middle School, said Pretty Weasel was a figure who inspired generations of Native players — from Lodge Grass' Old Bull to Hardin's Takes Enemy to those inside and outside of reservations across the state.
"He motivated a lot of those future legends that would come along after him," said Chavez, a former star player at Browning and Heart Butte who attended Hardin schools through the seventh grade. "He played decades ago, but his name is still synonymous with Montana basketball."
"It's tough," Chavez said. "He was a larger-than-life individual on the reservation. When you lose something like that you don't just lose a great person, you lose a lot of that knowledge that they had and experiences that they had. It's tough for the community. It's tough for our tribe and definitely not easy to get over."
Services for Pretty Weasel will be held Friday at 1 p.m. at Hardin High School, according to Pretty Weasel's family.