Devlyn Brooks: Red Lake 1997 team, game remain a highlight as reporter
Watching Gerald Kingbird shoot a three-pointer in his high school prime was equal parts a graceful show of athleticism as well as an unbelievable demonstration of poetry in motion.
And despite being an all-around balanced point guard who helped lead the 1997 Red Lake High School boys basketball team to a state tournament semifinals appearance, there was just something indescribably beautiful about his three-point shot.
Fans knew that from the moment Kingbird set his feet, through eyeing up the basket to his fluid finish from dribble to shot, they were watching a living art form, something to be appreciated on an entirely different level than the game going on around him.
I was recently reminded of Kingbird’s accomplishments when I read that he will become the coach of a new Red Lake Nation College basketball team next year.
As a journalist, there are certain assignments that become eternally burned into your psyche, and thanks to Kingbird, his equally capable teammate Delwyn Holthusen, and the rest of that 1997 Red Lake Warriors basketball team, I have a treasure chest of memories from my time as a Pioneer sports reporter.
But the gem of all gems was that historic three-overtime state semifinal game between Red Lake and Wabasso.
I rarely cover sports anymore, but I’m certain that even if I did I would never witness a contest that will display as much pride, courage, determination, willpower and exertion as did that game I covered for The Pioneer so many years ago.
Those in attendance were treated to a rare sporting event that transcended just mere sport and became a statement about humanity, an event that brought together thousands of strangers to witness something so unreal, so indescribable that nearly 20 years later the game is still talked about as a “where were you” moment among basketball fans.
State basketball tournament officials estimated that 10,000 American Indians filled the Xcel Center on that day, a day which saw the state’s first-ever all-Indian basketball team make the state semifinals. And I believe it: Looking from the playing floor into the stands, there was a sea of red and black that filled half the arena and looked like one massive, undulating organism.
The Red Lake fans made that arena rock, and when Kingbird would drain one of his awe-inspiring treys, it felt like the pandemonium might bring down the ceiling. I would use the word “deafening” to describe the Red Lake fans, but it doesn’t quite do them justice. Their cheering rattled the place to the rafters and for those of us with the privilege of standing on the court, it shook us to the bone. Even some 16 years later I can feel the building moving; what an eerie feeling that I will never forget.
I covered the Red Lake Warriors for another couple of seasons after that, and then I moved out of sports reporting. But in a journalism career that’s approaching 20 years, I remember few stories that rival that day in St. Paul, watching a bunch of boys give every ounce of their souls to a game they loved from birth.
And I have Kingbird and the rest of the boys to thank for that.
So as Red Lake, the college and Kingbird prepare to write the next chapter of Red Lake’s basketball story, I thought it worthwhile to remember a previous chapter, a moment those kids and the tribe share with basketball aficionados all across Minnesota.
Thank you, Gerald, and all of you 1997 Warriors, for giving us something more than just a basketball memory. You’re effort was legendary and will forever be a part of Minnesota State Basketball Tournament lore.
If Kingbird and his recruits can instill in the people of Red Lake just a fraction of the pride generated by his high school team, this new program will be a wild success.
Devlyn Brooks works Forum Communications Co, which owns The Pioneer. He lives in Moorhead, Minn., with his family.