Juggling Jerrickson: Sawmill man makes a career of basketball tricks and motivational speaking
One of Jerrickson Hosteen’s favorite tricks is juggling three things: A basketball, a torch with a flame and an apple. He takes a bite of the apple every few seconds as the flame flips and the basketball spins through the air around him.
The 35-year-old always gets wows from that trick, whether from school assemblies on a reservation, televised halftime shows for the Harlem Globetrotters, entertaining at the NASCAR Championships or even on his his Youtube videos.
“I knew I was going to go somewhere (with basketball tricks), but I didn’t know it was going to be almost 15 years into this and doing big events,” Hosteen said. “I thought I would just be local, performing shows and, just making an alright living. But no, it was way more than that.”
Hosteen is now touring with his childhood idol, former professional basketball player Philip Champion, aka Hot Sauce.
“Ever since I’ve seen him do his moves, that’s when I was really inspired to do the basketball tricks,” Hosteen said. “The cool thing is that he was my number one role model when I was growing up in the basketball freestyle and the street ball."
Hosteen emailed Champion and asked if he would do a fundraiser for Hosteen’s comedy basketball team, Reservation All-Stars. Champion got back to him saying he had looked into Hosteen’s past work, and instead of the one appearance, asked if he could join the rest of the tour.
“Probably my younger self back in high school would have freaked out,” Hosteen said, “But, I mean, it’s different now because I actually made a name for myself … he just felt like an older brother on tour.”
Hosteen grew up with a younger brother and sister, staying with his mother in the small mountain town of Sawmill, Arizona (Niʼiijííh Hasání), during the school year, and Low Mountain with his father during the summers. It was one summer in 1998 that Hosteen got hooked on watching the Harlem Globetrotters on TV, and started picking up the basketball.
His siblings were more into music, and didn’t share his interest in basketball, so Hosteen spent a lot of time shooting and dribbling by himself, but said his family was supportive. He also played Rezball with his cousins.
While at Window Rock High School, Hosteen got more into tricks, inspired by what he saw from Champion on the AND1 tours.
“I went from dribbling freestyle to doing different arm rolls, dribbling two basketballs, three basketballs,” Hosteen said. “I just wanted to add the tricks that I’ve seen from Hot Sauce and combine it with the tricks that I’ve seen with the Harlem Globetrotters.”
In high school Hosteen was bullied because of his hobby, and said many of the bullies were from the school’s basketball team.
“I didn’t want anything to do with some of the guys on the team only because I was bullied,” Hosteen said. “I think it was just jealousy, like, people would say ‘play real basketball.’ Or sometimes when I would practice the three-ball juggler, people would call me a clown and things like that.”
The bullying didn’t stop after Hosteen graduated from high school in 2008, and even as a professional today, he hears some of the same snide remarks.
“It still happens today, but it honestly doesn’t bother me anymore,” Hosteen said. “When it comes to youth speaking, I’ve spoken to kids that have lost parents to suicide, have seen their parents go and everything like that. … what I’m doing is basically helping change lives. So I’m actually doing a good thing, and doing something that has never been done before for Native Americans. … So it doesn’t really affect me at all.”
Hosteen thinks he’s performed in over 5,000 events, his record being 50 in a week and nearly 200 in a month. He has performed as far east as Norfolk, Virginia, touring with Flight Squad, as far west as Riverside, California, at the San Xavier Indian Reservation near Tucson in the south, and reservations in Canada in the north.
“I still have a lot of untapped potential in Canada,” Hosteen said, noting that he will be doing a two-month stint through Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta in March.
His first solo performance was in the fall of 2009 in Sawmill, for a new school that had opened up (and has subsequently closed).
“When I was speaking, (the kids) were just like all everywhere talking, making noise,” Hosteen remembered. “But the only time they were quiet was when I was performing.”
Starting in 2011, Hosteen teamed up with James June and Ernie Tsosie’s comedy shows.
“I’ve done a lot of opening shows for them at casinos, schools, community events,” Hosteen said. “Ernie, who is now a really great friend of mine, kind of helped me with my whole presentation. Because I would just do the youth speaking and then perform. The first few speaking gigs I did for Window Rock School District didn’t go so well. So I didn’t want to do the speaking… just the performance… So that’s when Ernie said, ‘you should try adding in some comedy skits. Like crowd interaction.’”
Hosteen’s shows today blend his basketball tricks with motivational speaking, comedy and skits.
“The whole thing as a package was helped put together by so many people, but most of it was from Ernie,” Hosteen said.
No Plan B
Hosteen attended Collins College in Phoenix briefly for video game design, but realized he liked playing the games more than designing them. It was then that he had his only other job outside of basketball entertainment.
“I was a courtesy clerk at Fry’s and I only was on the clock for two hours and I quit because I was like, what am I doing pushing carts in Tempe in 115 degree weather? I don’t want to be doing this. I don’t want to be going to school. I want to pursue my career as an entertainer,” Hosteen said. “I didn’t have a plan B, nothing like that. So I told myself it has to work. There’s no way around it.”
And 15 years later, it’s still working. But basketball entertainment isn’t all playing around.
“I pretty much do everything myself,” Hosteen said. “I do the cold calls, if the schools are interested, I send all the documents, quote, invoices. I go through my videos and try to put together good promo videos, work on my website. The only time I have is during the weekend, but during the weekend is when I’d rather just relax.”
Relaxing includes playing billiards, go-karting, golfing and swimming. But most of the time, Hosteen is either performing, planning performances or driving to performances with a large white van suped up with a graphic of his face, name and social media links.
“Some people find it weird but I love sleeping in my vehicle, I love travelling like that,” Hosteen said. “People would ask me, ‘well, what else would you be doing if you weren’t doing the basketball tricks?’ and I tell everybody, I would be a truck driver. I love driving, I love going to different places. I just love the nomad life.”
Hosteen does have an apartment in Tempe and shares space in Albuquerque with his brother, where his office is, but he is often in his van during tours, which also houses his personal PA system.
“Sound quality is very important when you do a presentation,” Hosteen said.
In November, he traveled to Oklahoma to perform for the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations during Native Heritage month. He’ll be touring again with the Reservation All-Stars next year.
“It’s going to feature myself and some top dunkers, ball handlers and actually Hot Sauce is going to be playing on that team as well as another AND1 Streetball legend,” Hosteen said. “We’ll be doing a couple of games on the Hopi Rez in October and November.”
Hosteen still has lots of tricks up his sleeve: He’s still mastering the four- ball dribble and juggle, five- ball juggle, and five- and six- ball spins.
Find out more at iamjerrickson.com.