How 'Uncle Drew' became 'Little Mountain': Kyrie Irving visits Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, connects with roots

Boston Celtics basketball star Kyrie Irving accepts gifts from students on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota on Thursday, Aug 23, 2018. (AP)
Boston Celtics basketball star Kyrie Irving accepts gifts from students on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota on Thursday, Aug 23, 2018. (AP)

Kyrie Irving took a break from his summertime work to get back on the court after season-ending knee surgery to make a different kind of road trip. The Boston Celtics point guard traveled to North Dakota on Thursday to visit the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and take part in an honorary naming ceremony celebrating the All-Star playmaker’s ancestry as part of the tribe.

Irving and his older sister, Asia, attended the “homecoming” at the reservation, receiving Lakota names — “Little Mountain” for Kyrie, “Buffalo Woman” for Asia — that honored their heritage during a ceremony that a tribal spokesperson called “very special for a Lakota person.” From Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Wearing a traditional shirt with ribbons, Irving stood on a buffalo skin and was prayed over by a tribe elder, Vernon Iron Horse. As a drum group played and chanted, Irving was wrapped in a blanket, had an eagle feather tied into his hair along with a medicine ball made of porcupine quills, and had a beaded medallion placed over his head as his name was revealed to him. […]

“We’re welcoming home two of our own,” Standing Rock chairman Mike Faith said. “This definitely is history.”

According to the tribe, Irving’s connected to the Standing Rock Sioux on his mother’s side, through the tribe’s White Mountain family:

The White Mountain family comes from the Bear Soldier District, on the South Dakota side of the reservation. Kyrie’s late mother, Elizabeth Ann Larson, was adopted out of the Tribe when she was a child. Kyrie’s grandmother is the late Meredith Marie Mountain, who is a citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Kyrie’s great-grandfather is Moses Mountain and great grandmother is Edith Morisette-Mountain. […]

Chairman Mike Faith stated, “We could not be more excited, he has made us all very proud. To know that he has not forgotten his roots and is taking the time before he starts his basketball season to visit the People, his People, shows that Kyrie has great character and pride in his heritage.”

Irving, 26, has reportedly long known about the Lakota aspect of his heritage, and has made multiple gestures of support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. During the protests against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the potential environmental, cultural and spiritual threats that the oil-drilling proposal could pose for the Native Americans living in the path of the project, Irving expressed solidarity with the tribe:

Irving has also tattooed the tribal seal on the back of his neck, and incorporated it into the design of the Nike N7 edition of his Kyrie 4 signature sneaker. Last year, according to Windhorst, Irving also “made a six-figure donation to the tribe.”

“I’m proud of my personal history, so to have this opportunity to represent my family as well as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is an incredible honor,” Irving said in a statement when the shoes were released. “Mom, this is for you. I love you so much.”

For Irving, the trip and ceremony represented an opportunity to continue to embrace his roots. For the tribe, it afforded an opportunity to welcome family members back into the fold, and perhaps in the process help spur others to take a deeper dive into their own Native American heritage. From the Associated Press:

Many in the crowd, including Char White Mountain, consider the siblings to be part of their family.

“We want him to know who his relatives are,” she said. “We definitely don’t want him to think we’re people using him for his money. He’s family.”

Jewel Felix, who considers Kyrie Irving her nephew, said she became emotional when she heard he was coming.

“I started crying,” she said. “I can’t believe it’s happening.”

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Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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