Kyrie, sneakers, and a close connection
On the morning of Thursday, Aug. 23, my alarm rang four hours earlier than normal. Usually dreading the sound that signifies the start of another day, I sprung out of my bed, contrast to the usual slow, painstaking crawl.
After freshening up, I quickly got dressed as my clothes were already laid out from the night before, hearkening back to my high school days, when a well-coordinated outfit was as important as the grades you got on your report card.
Gathering all of my items, I hopped in my car and embarked on a two-hour drive to Cannon Ball to see a legend.
Kyrie Irving, dribbling maestro and point guard for the Boston Celtics, along with younger sister, Asia, were being honored by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe with a naming ceremony. Irving's connection to the tribe is through his late mother, Elizabeth Larson
Irving has gone public in embracing his heritage in recent years, including multiple donations, support of the tribe's fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline and including the tribe's logo on a version of his signature Nike basketball shoe.
Catching wind of the event the week prior, I decided it didn't matter how tired I was from the night before or how early I had to wake up, I was going to be there.
My connection to Irving is simple: born and raised in Massachusetts, I'm a diehard Celtics fan.
Before I go further in this column, I'd like to start by saying excuse me.
More specifically, excuse the incoming humblebrag.
I've had the privilege of interviewing the MLB commissioner, Super Bowl champions, NFL Hall of Famers, NHL Hall of Famers, a MLB MVP, former NBA veterans, a Heisman Award winner and a NASCAR champion.
Through my seven years as a sports writer, you tend to get over the allure of celebrity.
It's just part of the job.
But as my Facebook friends and Instagram followers can attest, being a fan, even as a fully-formed adult, is much different. My Facebook profile picture is of myself sandwiched in between ESPN personalities Bomani Jones and Dan LeBatard after bumping into them after a Dave Chappelle concert in Miami. The smile that I had on my face then pales in comparison to the one I had after meeting Gonzalo "Papi" LeBatard in the concession stand of a Miami Heat game.
Those things tend to happen when you are in arm's reach of the people you greatly admire, and in some ways, even inspire you.
Attending this event that was free to the public, I was going as Patrick Bernadeau the fan, not the journalist.
When I arrived at the Prairie Knights Pavilion, the lobby was a sea of Celtics green. Approximately a thousand people, ranging from kids to adults, fans and the national media, were in attendance; many of them wearing either a Irving jersey or his basketball sneakers.
Several of Irving's distant relatives from the reservation donned green T-shirts given to them upon arrival. The Boston Celtics leprechaun logo was imprinted on the front of each shirt while the message "Welcome Home Kyrie" was featured on the back.
As the crowd waited for event the start, one particular boy, draped from top to bottom in Kyrie/Nike apparel, caught my attention with his shoes: the Nike "Lucky Charms" Kyrie 4's. Colored in bright crimson, his sneakers were eye-popping.
With his hero soon to appear, I couldn't help but wonder what he was thinking. I couldn't imagine what he felt knowing that one of the best basketball players in the world shares this lineage with him. I also wondered what those shoes meant to him. However, all I had to do was look down on my feet to clearly understand.
Twenty years ago, the Air Jordan XIII were released and instantly became my favorite shoe of all time. The sneakers were nicknamed "He Got Game" 13's after the motion-picture film where Denzel Washington slipped on a pair after briefly getting out of jail to recruit Ray Allen to Big State University. Understandably, my parents couldn't afford them at the time and thought it was obscene to spend a fortune on sneakers.
The Jordan brand began re-releasing classic shoes shortly after the turn of the century and I patiently waited for my chance to get my hands on these shoes, including the first re-release during my broke college days or choosing bills over J's when they came back in 2013.
Thankfully, this past summer, the wait was over. It's hard to explain why I love them so much, but I imagine thinking that Michael Jordan was God back in the day might have something to do with it.
Now at 32, I felt like I was looking at a mirror of my 11-year old self.
Still, my reality told me that I haven't strayed too far from those days. And that made me happy.
Shortly after the crowd entered the pavilion, Kyrie and Asia took to the stage to a raucous standing ovation, as he would be given the name "Little Mountain" and she granted the Lakota name "Buffalo Woman."
The ceremony included many traditional dances and displays of tribal pride as Irving received a number gifts from the members. After saying a few words, Irving signed autographs and posed for pictures.
Coming from afar, literally and figuratively, Irving's blossoming relationship with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe was a beautiful sight to see as the adoration from the people in attendance grew in person.
For someone who was only there thanks to my Celtics pride, mine did, too.