May 02, 2022
I was forwarded an article posted by KOSU (91.7 FM) about the newly formed Potawatomi Fire basketball team. Like any new team, the players were confident they would win a championship this year. Afterall, as player Mustapha Traore said, “Out here there’s nothing but land and basketball.” The Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s new minor league basketball team kicked off its inaugural season March 4 in The Basketball League (TBL) after being unveiled last September. The team logo and name were selected at a time when sports mascots and logos are drawing national attention, but brand recognition is still important. The Potawatomi were originally called Bodewadmi, or the People of the Place of the Fire, and the tribal seal features a pipe and tomahawk over a log fire. The Potawatomi Fire are looking to bringing the fire to the TBL.
When I looked online, I found the Potawatomi Fire is the first tribally owned sports team in Oklahoma, and one of only a handful of professional teams owned by tribal nations in the US. The Citizen Potawatomi Nation already operates two casinos, gas stations and grocery stores, and several small businesses, but the Fire are part of a growing number of “casino adjacent” businesses growing across Oklahoma. The Tribe’s investment serves as a lure for business partnerships from surrounding communities and to keep money circulating at home rather than being spent elsewhere. Tribal Chairman John Barrett said “We have a huge payroll. We have 2,200 employees. And whenever you’re putting out that kind of money in a payroll, and another $450 million or $400 million in vendor purchases, you want those dollars . . . to turn at least four times before they leave the tribe’s economy.” This is buying local at its heart.
The Potawatomi Nation installed a new basketball court, updated the scoreboard, and remodeled the changing and locker rooms to accommodate the TBL team. Investments have been heavy with the team as well. Players receive housing, a bus to get to the games, a per diem stipend, and other things not available with other TBL teams. The players in turn are adding value to the community. Player Deon Lyle knows he and the other players can be assets to the Tribe and the Shawnee area. “We’re not here to just shut up and dribble.” said Lyle, “They’re taking care of us very well, and they’re not just having us here to entertain. We’re here to, you know, be a part of the community and do more than just be a basketball player.” The Fire are currently in fourth place at 12-4 in the Central, one of six TBL Divisions.
THOUGHTS: Chairman Barrett likes to think of the tribe’s investments as in line with their view of the world and their vision for the future, the “Seven Fires” prophecy. The prophecy describes a turbulent time in Potawatomi history when the tribe was visited by seven prophets, and its telling has helped the Potawatomi people understand who they were, are and will be in the future. The Tribe looks at investments in terms of 50 years, not just 10. While a willingness to invest in the local future may not produce immediate corporate gains, it is the way to create a stable local economy. Jacob Marley viewed of the world as a hard and cruel place where you must learn to fend for yourself and died to regret it. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.