On Monday evening, MSU Billings hosted a screening of a new documentary called "Native Ball", which chronicles the life of Malia Kipp.
Kipp, who grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation in northern Montana, was the first Native American woman to receive a Division I basketball scholarship in Montana.
She played for the University of Montana in the 1990s, but her impact is still felt by many Native Americans in Montana. That includes current MSUB basketball player Kola Bad Bear.
"Basketball has always been the main thing," Bad Bear said. "It's a part of our culture."
Bad Bear, a former Billings Senior High standout, grew up in Pryor where her career first began, playing basketball with her sisters.
"Out in Pryor, there's these outdoor courts, and we'd be there every night until the sun goes down," Bad Bear said. "It's just always been what we've done and enjoyed doing."
Bad Bear ended up playing basketball at Montana State, where she was a big part of their NCAA tournament berth her junior year. With the extra year of eligibility granted to her from the COVID-19 pandemic, Bad Bear has chosen to play this upcoming season, her final one, as close to home as possible at MSUB.
"I just wanted to be close to home where my family could come watch me play as much as possible," Bad Bear said. "I've been so blessed with the family I have and it means a lot to be back in Billings for this year."
Bad Bear said Kipp is a trailblazer and someone that she and many others look up to.
"A lot of kids look up to her and see that milestone," Bad Bear said. "They see the fact that she did it and accomplished it and set all of these stepping stones that they can do too."
Bad Bear will be a part of the panel speaking after the film airs on Monday. She will be joined by another Montana basketball legend, Buddy Windy Boy, who grew up in Lodge Grass and ended up playing at MSUB.
"You pull back my chest and there's a basketball pumping basketball blood," Windy Boy said. "You're representing where you come from, where you grow up and you're representing your family."
Windy Boy has since moved on to coaching. He'll be the head coach of the Huntley Project boys team this upcoming season, after spending a couple seasons with Laurel. He said the sport has always served as an equalizer for him and many others.
"When I was growing up, it was on the basketball court where we were actually considered equal," Windy Boy said. "You could be from all over, but once you were in the game, those five were together playing together and trying to win."
While both Windy Boy and Bad Bear are well-known in Montana basketball history, neither can say they are the trailblazer that Kipp was. Windy Boy said it's an honor to be asked to speak on the panel following the premiere.
"My wife Sammy played collegiate basketball and had the way paved for her by Malia and others that came before her," Windy Boy said. "It's a huge impact. I have three daughters, so I'm all for protecting and defending women in sports."
Native Ball Co-Director Megan Harrington said she is grateful for the opportunity to share Kipp's story.
"I'm happy for Malia that her story is getting the attention it deserves," Harrington said. "Hopefully, this film will open a dialogue or spark a conversation to allow us to understand those differences because they still exist."
Harrington, who was born and raised in Missoula, helped direct "The House that Rob Built," a documentary about the rise of the University of Montana women's basketball program under the coaching of Robin Selvig.
"As a documentary filmmaker, I just want to tell a good, compelling story," Harrington said. "It's really special to be able to do that in my hometown and for something I'm passionate about."
Kipp is still considered to have been ahead of her time and her impact is still inspiring current role models today.
"For me, I play for something bigger than me," Bad Bear said. "I play for those little girls and little. boys back home and to show them that you can do it too."