"Let's go do this for the rez, bro."
The Red Lake Warriors boys’ basketball team clinched a spot in the state tournament last Friday night and my Facebook feed was packed with celebratory posts all weekend long. But these were the words that stuck with me.
They were written by Warriors basketball player Robert McClain. His post was meant for McClain's friend and Warriors teammate Sonny Martin — it included a photo of the two Warriors basketball stars embracing on the court.
But McClain's words meant a lot — perhaps even more — to the many others with connections to the Red Lake basketball team.
The 26-4 Warriors are making their third straight state tournament appearance this year, with hopes of capturing its first-ever state title. Fifth-seeded Red Lake will play No. 4 Browerville-Eagle Valley in the opening round of the Class A State Tournament Thursday at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
Unfortunately I won't be at the game. But I'll be cheering from afar and monitoring the game online.
The truth is, I haven't watched the Warriors play in-person for about a decade. I no longer live on the rez, or even in Minnesota. But thanks to social media and all my eager Facebook friends willing to share in-game analysis, usually through humor, I feel like I'm in the old gym most nights. It feels like I'm in the bleachers cheering for my favorite team.
So I'll be cheering Thursday from my home in Arizona.
I haven't even met McClain or Martin or any of the current Warriors players. But because of my connection to Red Lake, I feel like I know them.
In a way, I do.
I played for Red Lake 16 years ago. I wasn't nearly as talented as McClain or Martin. But I played on some great Red Lake teams, even though we never brought home the state championship trophy.
In Minnesota, most aspiring athletes look for hockey ice time during the subzero months. But Red Lakers? We search for basketball court space, which can be a struggle to find.
Basketball is more than a game for many at Red Lake. It's a cherished outlet. It's a part of reservation life the entire year. Young boys and girls start playing at an early age and work hard to be part of the basketball tradition.
It's the same way across much of Indian Country. Basketball is in our blood. It just is!
In Minnesota, especially northern Minnesota, people spend their winters counting down to sunny days spent at the beach or on the lake. Red Lakers count down the winter days in anticipation of high-school basketball playoffs.
And Red Lake basketball fans are extremely loyal. They travel well and often through dangerous weather in support of the Warriors.
Where can you find a packed high-school gym on a Tuesday night in January in rural Minnesota?
Anywhere Red Lake plays.
I remember pulling up in our school bus and seeing hundreds of fans lined up for our playoff games. I remember the explosion of cheers as we ran onto the court before tipoff.
Hundreds of Red Lakers and Native people across Minnesota will help fill Williams Arena to cheer for the Warriors this week. It's happened before and it will happen again.
The Red Lake School District and tribal council is doing its part to help. The district has canceled school Thursday and Friday. The tribe even gave employees time off to attend the game. Many will make the five-hour drive to Williams Arena. Plus, there are hundreds of Red Lake tribal members who call the Twin Cities home.
Could 2016 finally be the year Red Lake wins state? I hope so.
The team is talented and has state tournament experience. I'm sure McClain, Martin and their teammates will do their best to represent the Red Lake Nation.
A state title would be great. But win or lose, the Red Lake Nation will always be behind them.
Dalton Walker lives in Phoenix with his wife, Taté, and young daughter and future basketball star, Mimi. A member of the Native American Journalists Association Board of Directors, Walker can be found on Twitter: @daltonwalker.
ABOUT 10,000 Takes: 10,000 Takes is a new digital section featuring first-person essays about life in the North Star State. We publish narratives about love, family, work, community and culture in Minnesota.