Excitement was in the air for players and the coach at Oklahoma’s first tribally owned professional basketball team ahead of their opening game.
The Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a Shawnee, Oklahoma-headquartered tribal nation, owns The Potawatomi Fire. The team is starting its inaugural season with The Basketball League, or TBL.
“Back in 2019, we decided that we wanted to add a basketball court as one of the products of the FireLake Arena to be able to start doing some independent tournaments and high school tournaments and things like that. It’s just another product that the arena had to offer,” said David Qualls, general manager of Potawatomi Fire.
Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit and there was a halt to sporting events. Through that time, though, Qualls learned about The Basketball League, and the tribe decided to move forward with starting its own team.
“This was just a great hand-in-hand opportunity for a good economic enterprise as well as good civic and community programming as well. And so here we are today,” Qualls said in an interview with The Daily Yonder.
A sports team is a huge asset to any community, said Potawatomi Fire Head Coach Derrick Rowland.
“My players, we are in the schools,” Rowland told The Daily Yonder. “We’re in the hospital. We’re on the playground. You know, we get out there. We want to have an impact on youth and anyone else that gets joy from sports, and I think a lot of people do in Indian Country. It’s just so exciting to me, because it’s historical.”
Tevin Foster is a point guard for the team and a member of the Comanche Nation, headquartered in Lawton, Oklahoma. Foster played a few years overseas, he said, and Covid slowed things down. The opportunity to join the Potawatomi Fire became available and he took it.
Foster said having a team sponsored by Native peoples is good for the Native community.
“And not only that, when at a pro level, it’s always good for a player,” he added during an interview..
Basketball tends to be a popular sport in Indian Country, Foster said, because it brings people and communities together. “Us playing basketball and being around each other – being around that energy and environment, I love that,” he added.
Monty Roberts is a player for the team who grew up in Shawnee. Roberts believes the team will help build up Shawnee.
Shawnee is “a big town, but it’s like a small town,” he said. “There’s not a lot of people here, and there’s not a lot going on. So…for me to be from this town and play on the team, come out here and actually be able to compete with these guys, because these guys are all pros. They’re all good. I’ve never played against a lot of people that are like this. And for it to be in my hometown … it’s pretty exciting.”
The team’s first game was an away game on March 4. The Fire’s first home game will be March 19 against the Little Rock Lightning.