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Basketball cannot do your talking for you

Learn how to talk to people



Summer is a worrisome time for graduating Lakota high school athletes. For many their main focus has been basketball, and much of their purpose and identity has been tied to it. Their high school career behind them, regardless of their talent, or how much college programs express interest, the Lakota world where they played basketball is going to change fundamentally.

The high school can no longer use their services, and thousands will never play that level of organized ball again. For those with the talent to go onto the next level of competition, unlike their Wasicu counterparts, there will be a huge cultural transition to process.

Many not experiencing that transition, and unfortunately, this would include teammates, coaches, schoolmates, may not see the impact, may not recognize the turmoil with which the Lakota athlete struggles. They can rationalize it into minimal importance, but the Lakota athlete has to live it.

Time and again, I see the top Lakota graduates from one year, become the sad failures of the next 10 years. What factors made that failure such a common outcome? There must be shared factors, basic factors, that extend to all five Lakota reservations.

The obvious difference is Lakota everyday life is not the same as Wasicu everyday life. Yes, there are cell phones, and Playstation 4, and hip hop, and eating out at restaurants, and going to the movies, but at some point most Lakota youth function in a world not of their making, not for their benefit, a world predicated on the priorities and sensibilities of an alien culture, a culture so alien that even when members of it try their well-intentioned best to interact with Lakota, the interaction is awkward, unproductive, and it does nothing to make the Lakota athlete feel like he belongs in that situation.

My experience has been that, the Lakota athlete that can best interact enthusiastically, even proactively, with any person who comes onto his/her radar screen, is most likely to succeed, as a college ballplayer, as a student, as a graduated professional. When I interview kids that have trouble making conversation with me, I realize I am a micro expression of their inability to step out of their tribal comfort zone, and I have complete empathy for that difficulty, because I once had the same problem.

I never ate in a restaurant alone until I was past 20. Never have gone to the movies alone, still hate even watching TV alone. I was one of 12 siblings raised around a large extended family, and when such people are 18, yanked from that reality because of a basketball scholarship to some school hundreds of miles distant, full of people with no inkling of who or what Lakota people are, many fail miserably.

Lucky for me I was smoking weed and goofing off so I had no opportunities to blow.

My best advice to any Lakota athlete is to learn how to talk to strangers comfortably. This may not seem like it is important, but no single factor will sandbag future success worse than an inability to routinely interact with whatever environment you get dumped into. Use your time in school to develop some knowledge and skill you can apply off the court.

(James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe. Contact him at

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