Indigenous

Michael Linklater ranked No. 1 3x3 basketball player in Canada

Michael Linklater is the founder of the "Boys with Braids" campaign. He is also the No. 1 ranked FIBA 3x3 player in Canada.

Boys with Braids founder inspiring next generation of Indigenous basketball players

Michael Linklater holds the ranking for number one FIBA player in Canada for the second consecutive year. (FIBA)

Michael Linklater has been playing basketball for over 20 years but last weekend he reached a new level in the game.

Linklater represented Team Saskatoon in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) 3x3 world tour qualifiers in Mexico City. According to FIBA.com, he officially moved up four spots in the individual rankings in the world, where he sits at 13th overall.

He also holds the ranking for the number one player in Canada for the second consecutive year.

The Team Saskatoon member is humble about his achievements.

"In terms of having that title, it doesn't mean much as an individual …My goal is to win as a member of a team.  In terms of having that ranking beside me, it means a lot when youth or younger youth can look up and see that an Aboriginal, Indigenous person is doing well on an international or world stage."

Early love of the game

Linklater is Nehiyaw from Thunderchild First Nation, Sask. He grew up in the inner city of Saskatoon and fell in love with the game at the age of 11.

"There was a fresh court paved in the back of our school yard. One recess we went out when it was ready to be used, and some of the older kids went out and started playing a full game. Because it was new, everybody in the whole school surrounded the court and it created a pretty sweet environment," recalls Linklater.

Linklater quickly realized that the game of basketball was something that he wanted to be a part of.

He ended up played professionally in the International Basketball league and has won at the Canadian Intersport (CIS) level.

Linklater played his last year of university basketball for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. As captain of the 2009-2010 season Huskies team, he led the Huskies to their first and only Canada West conference, and national CIS championships in school history.

Linklater also took home the tournament MVP award that season.

As for the FIBA 3X3 world tour, Linklater and Team Saskatoon placed 3rd at the qualifiers in Mexico City this past weekend. The team plans on travelling to Europe this Thursday, where they hope to secure a spot in the FIBA World Tour Final in Abu Dhabi on 27-28 October.

Boys with Braids

Earlier this year, Linklater made headlines across the country as the founder of a national campaign known as Boys with Braids. 

He recalls being teased and bullied by classmates during his early years of schooling.

After Linklater observed his own sons being bullied in school for wearing braids, he decided to start a campaign to bring awareness and create understanding of the cultural significance of the braid.

"I wear a braid to honour my ancestors and my culture," says Michael Linklater, the founder of the Boys with Braids campaign. (Scott Stephens)

Linklater never really expected himself to be a role model, but recognized that people were putting that title on him at a younger age.

"There's a lot of youth that are looking up to me and I have to demonstrate a healthy lifestyle to them," he said. 

"I do enjoy that, to be a beacon of hope or a shining light for some youth that are struggling, or don't have anyone to look up to. I do take that in high regard," said Linklater.

Growing the game

Linklater sees this year as his last year of playing competitively in the 3x3 world circuit. Despite this being his last year, Linklater is nowhere close to leaving the game he loves. He wants to be "able to 'build' the game".

He's the owner and head coach of Prime Basketball Development. The small business travels to First Nation communities and hosts individual and team development skills clinics.

Linklater described the impact that he has made with coaching the next generation of basketball players.

"It was interesting to to see, planting that seed at a young age, and just [teaching] the basic fundamentals for them, and seeing how it just blossomed. These kids can develop if you just give them the right tools to work on."

From inspiring Indigenous youth to rock their braids, to being ranked the No. 1 player in Canada, Linklater is someone that kids can look up to.

About the Author

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He is the co-founder of Red Rising Magazine and has been an associate producer with the CBC's Indigenous unit for three years. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1