Joe Burton was a stand-out on the basketball court during his time at Oregon State. As a bruising forward, the 6’ 8”, 290-pounder was a hard-nosed player who was blossomed into a fan-favorite. Now, residing on the Soboba Indian Reservation in California and waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic with the rest of us, I caught up with Burton to ask him about his playing career, his Native American heritage and his clothing brand, “Hunwut Clothing”, which he started in 2019.
Recruited out of high school by almost the whole then-Pac-10 Conference (not counting Oregon) and by a host of other top tier programs, including Louisville, Marquette, Oklahoma State, Purdue, Tennessee and more, Burton had his fair share of schools to choose from. However, the forward talent chose Oregon State due to new head coach Craig Robinson and a program where he felt like he could make an impact and thrive. To this day, Burton still holds his decision to attend school in Corvallis as a great call, where he notes that competing in the Nike N7 games, which helps to “inspire and enable Native American and Aboriginal youth in North America to participate in sport and physical activity”, was one of the highlights his time with Oregon State.
“One of the best things was the N7 games. What an honor (it was) to take part and bring that Native Culture to Oregon State. Also, just the people in Corvallis it just made it feel like home and was a great place and atmosphere to play especially at Gill Coliseum.”
Since his days in the Pacific Northwest, Burton has traveled around the globe pursuing his professional career, where’s made stops in Denmark, France, Holland and Japan. Currently, the pro season where he’s been playing in France since 2018 is “suspended” and likely to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the experience of playing overseas is something that Burton adds is much bigger than just basketball.
“The best things about playing overseas is the traveling and sightseeing and learning about other cultures and another thing is the food every country I’ve been to the food has been extremely good fresh and healthy.”
Culture is something extremely important to Burton, who is a member of the Luiseno Native American tribe in Southern California. He adds that his background and upbringing has shaped him into the person he is today and still openly shares his lifestyle with those both home and abroad, hopeful to teach others a deeper understanding of what it means to have “Native Pride”. Known as the first Native American male basketball player to earn a basketball scholarship at a Pac-10 (Pac-12) school, the title is an honor he admits comes tinted with some mixed emotions.
“(It’s) bittersweet because I feel a lot more native athletes should get that chance to play sports in college with a scholarship, but it’s a honor to be recognized for that achievement and hoping it will spark other native youth to strive and do better then me. My native roots hold a string part of who I am and always take those values everywhere I go. Another thing is that I’m always telling my story to the fans overseas because they love the story and culture of the native people.”
In addition to basketball, Burton has dreams that stretch way beyond the hardwood. He’s already reached into new creative outlets, including starting his own clothing brand, “Hunwut Clothing” in 2019. The word “Hunwut” means “bear” in the Luiseño language and it’s not all that hard to guess where the inspiration for the name came from.
“When I was younger I was a bigger child and family called me ‘hunwut’ on account of me being bigger then most kids. How it came about was that a lot of fans always wanted my jersey or a shirt at the end of the season, so I decided to make a clothing brand that people could purchase native prints and with that they have a piece of the story that I told them to stay with them. But Hunwut Clothing is a sub category in my plan. Hunwut Foundation is a company I want to start... a non-profit for the youth in my community. We will be catering to mostly native youth in communities, who don’t have information about education and athletics. Give them a outlet like I had which was sports...getting a scholarship and degree...and playing basketball for a career.”
As far as what Burton’s future holds, he expects to return to basketball after the COVID-19 pandemic ends and his focus currently is on “growing the company and also staying in shape for the next season whenever that will be”.
We thank Joe for taking the time to speak with us and you can check out Burton’s clothing line at HunwutClothing.com.