Canadian basketball player hopes for better opportunities for Indigenous athletes

Canadian basketball player hopes for better opportunities for Indigenous athletes

Michael Linklater wants better opportunities for youth

Michael Linklater remembers the day he fell in love with the game. His elementary school in Saskatoon had just laid a new asphalt basketball court, and a group of older boys playing pick-up had drawn a crowd during recess.

Linklater, who was 12, jostled to get a good view. The atmosphere was electric.

“Everyone in the schoolyard surrounded the court, it created almost like a stadium in a sense,” Linklater said. “And to see what some of these older players were doing on the court was really cool because I had never seen that before up close and in person. So, that’s where I fell in love … I picked up the basketball and never looked back.”

That playground atmosphere, when the music is blaring and fans are squeezed into bleachers, is part of what draws the 35-year-old Linklater to the 3-on-3 game. It’s taken him around the world, including to Beijing, where Linklater’s Team Saskatoon will play in the FIBA 3×3 World Final that tips off Saturday.

Most importantly, it’s provided a stage for his work with Indigenous youth.

“Sports is an easy platform to connect with people,” Linklater said from his Saskatoon home, where a film crew was working on a documentary. “And my success on the sporting field has really given me a spotlight to shine on some of the issues that are plaguing Indigenous people.”

Linklater, who is Nehiyaw (Cree) from the Thunderchild First Nation, willingly shares his story. His grandparents were residential school survivors, but would both die of alcoholism. His mom was sent to New Jersey to be raised by a non-Indigenous family as part of the Sixties Scoop – when some-20,000 Indigenous children were “scooped” up in the 1960s and placed in foster homes or adopted.

His mom battles addiction. He never knew his father. He was raised by his great-aunt.

When he speaks to youth, he tells them he was destined to fail.

“For me to be able to share my story with a lot of youth who come from some of the same situations that I did, I hope to encourage people that they can do what whatever it is they want to in life,” Linklater said.

Linklater captained the Saskatchewan Huskies to their first Canadian university title in 2010. Afterward, he carted the huge W.P. McGee Trophy to a handful of Saskatchewan high schools to speak with kids. He went on to play for the Edmonton Energy of the IBL before he stumbled upon the 3-on-3 game, which will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

Team Saskatoon — Linklater, Steve Sir, Michael Lieffers, and Andrew Spagud — is the only non-European entry in the 12-team World Final tournament.

While there are no positions in 3-on-3, which is played on a half-court with a 12-second shot clock, the five-foot-10 Linklater was a point guard in college. He’s easy to spot on the court with a braid that hangs halfway down his back.

Linklater was relentlessly bullied for his braid as a kid. He begged his great-aunt to let him cut his hair. When his sons — Amari, 13, and Dream, nine — suffered the same racist taunts, Linklater started an international campaign called Boys With Braids.

“It’s making sure I teach my boys to be proud of their culture, but it extends bigger than that,” Linklater said. “The people in the school system, the educators and the superintendants, directors of the school boards, these are the people who need to understand the significance of why Indigenous men grow our hair. It’s not just a fashion statement.”

Canadian basketball doesn’t have a high-profile Inidigenous athlete like NHL players Carey Price and Jordin Tootoo. Linklater — who founded Prime Basketball Development, which travels into Indigenous communities, plus holds skills clinics elsewhere — dreams of a day Indigenous athletes suit up for Canada’s national team or play in the NBA.

“There needs to be something in place to help support Indigenous athletes,” he said. “A lot of the communities I’ve visited, there are phenomenal, talented athletes. But the system is not set up for these athletes from Indigenous and poverty situations to succeed.”

As for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, qualifying is still to be determined, but Linklater said Canada needs to accumulate more points on the World Tour. As a team that has blazed a trail, Saskatoon’s players would love a shot.

Sir, a 35-year-old who first met Linklater while playing for the Edmonton Energy, said they “would have to be kind of crazy not to want to try and pursue it.

“There are a lot of cool things that happen in the world of sports. But this is the Olympics.”

The 3-on-3 game ends after 10 minutes or when a team scores 21 points. The 3×3 Final in Beijing is being held on a portable court in a shopping mall.

Saskatoon plays two games on Saturday, the quarters and semifinals are Saturday, and the final Sunday. Saskatoon’s top finish in the World Final was silver in 2014 in Japan.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Residents line up outside the Vernon Recreation Complex for their COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, June 5. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
No appointments necessary for first dose COVID-19 vaccine: Interior Health

People can just show up at clinics, register on the spot and get the shot

1914
It happened this week in 1914

June 6 -12: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the archived newspapers held at the Cranbrook History Centre and Archives

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday, June 10, mentioned Grand Forks among two other COVID “hot spots” in B.C. Photo: Screenshot - YouTube COVID-19 BC Update, June 10, 2021
PHO Henry says West Kootenay city is a COVID ‘hot spot’ in B.C.

There are 11 cases of COVID-19 in the Grand Forks local health area, according the BC CDC

Supporters — and shoppers — lined up waiting at the Cranbrook Health Care Auxiliary Thrift Store on 8th Avenue South, waiting for the doors to open on the store's first day of operations since the pandemic forced its closure. (Photo courtesy Kate Fox)
CHCA Thrift Store re-opens in Cranbrook

After a closure of 15 months, due to the pandemic, the Cranbrook Health Care Auxiliary Thrift Store on 8th Avenue South has once again opened its doors for business.

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

Most Read