I’ve known Sam Alexander for many years. Watched him as a member of the Muscogee (Creek) National Council, actually the Speaker of that house, and as a CPA. I have much respect for his contributions to Indian country and the local community, but I’m really inspired by something else about him. Sam is a lifelong athlete. For the long haul, he has been a runner and an Indian baller. He also writes and mails actual hard copy letters. We should try to recover that lost art, too.
This morning at the Mvskoke District Court, I got a piece of official looking mail, file stamped by the court clerk, from the Alexander CPA Firm. It was a letter from Sam, following through on my request for him to write up his health story for this blog. My smile will be a bit brighter for the rest of the day, and I think yours will be too.
Heres Sam’s story on – BEING AN ATHLETE . . . not just in fits and starts, but forever.
“Some of my earliest fun memories are hanging with my older brother and his friends. When I was in 2nd grade, they let me play football with them with the understanding they would cut me no slack and there would be no tears. As the smallest member of all my sports teams, the toughness the older boys instilled served me well.
During my early adult years, I played sand lot softball and no pads tackle football. At age 36, a friend and I began training for the Tulsa Run one spring and completed this life changing event in good fashion. I was addicted to the endorphins, hooked by the weight loss and getting in shape once again. Ever local 5K or 10K featuring beer afterward got my participation.
One of my clients was an oral surgeon and his wife brought in his monthly accounting. One day she mentioned his moving like he was 90 years old due to playing basketball the night before. When she left, I told her I was available if they ever needed a sub; this was December 1991 (I was astounded hearing these words come out of my mouth). The following Wednesday morning he called and asked if I could sub that night, that the boys might be short a player or two. Sitting in the parking lot of the Salvation Army gym in Broken Arrow I determined it had been 20 years since touching a basketball. I was in my mid-40s.
Running enabled me to get up and down the court playing good defense. I could hear my high school coach yelling GET BACK. If the ball came to me, I immediately passed it on to an open player. One night after about three months, I go the ball around the free throw line and everyone in the gym said in unison, “shoot it, god dammit.” I did and it went in. What a rush!
Did I mention that ultimately the players were substantially younger than me with most being half my age? They became known affectionately as the “flat bellies.”
For the next 28 years my health routine was set. Starting Friday nights, I began running six miles knowing my basketball was complimented, repeating the runs on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and often Tuesday. My shooting and no-look passing abilities began to return and my conditioning improved the most. The three-point shot deep from the corners became my favorite weapon and I loved hearing opponents swearing at their teammates to get out there and guard that old man. “HE’S GONNA PUT IT UP AGAIN.” The only skills that did not adequately return were left -handed dribbling and layups while blazing relentlessly down the court.
Over the years, an estimated 100 players have come and gone. The core group consisted of four or five guys, and we always had the requisite 10 players. We have had several lawyers, a judge, a bank president, multiple business executives, marathon runners, Joe Sixpacks galore and more than a few Native Americans involved in tribal gaming. We had a butcher who lost 100 pounds over a couple of years. We played lots of man-to-man defense, and when a chubby guy was assigned to me, I would mention he could not possibly keep up and predict accurately the moment this was provided to him (usually the middle of the 2nd game). Many times, I would fast break or steal the ball, do a layup and no one would bother chasing me. “Bring the ball back when you’re done, all right Sam?
During this time, I have confronted a heart attack, cancer biopsy, and prostate removal surgery. My initial question was this: How much basketball will I miss? When may I return to the courts? The heart doctor made me take off six weeks and the surgeons asked for a month each time. A piece of cake!
All good things must come to an end, and I wondered how long I could continue playing basketball at a high level without hindering the flat bellies as I aged. When the Arkansas River flooded the River Spirit Casino a couple of years ago, the same storm trashed the roof of our gym. It took nine months to repair, and when the gym reopened, the Salvation Army was reluctant to let us restart Wednesday night basketball. We collected $3 per player each night over the years, I estimate we gave $40,000. The core guys wrote generous checks at Christmas or whenever they were asked. We respected the property and were well behaved. Any regrouping hope we had was wiped out by COVID-19, and it will be two years in May since I last played.
My exercise has been reduced to slow runs at Haikey Park and shooting a few baskets alone at another gym. However, there are thousands of experiences, even placing in my age group in a few runs. What an enjoyment it has been to meet some of the local athletes and compete strenuously in a positive environment.
Life and Creator have provided multiple opportunities of all kinds and I am fortunate to have professional and tribal accomplishments and attendant acquaintances. My tribal legislative peers elected me as their Speaker, and I got to speak at the Smithsonian Museum. However, being an athlete the whole time has mean as much to me as any of it.”
That, folks . . . is what they mean when they say “a life well-lived” and I don’t believe for a minute that we won’t see Sam on a basketball court again, once life turns back to “normal.” He’s not one to stay on the sidelines. And even if it really does come down to slower runs or walks in the park, you won’t find Sam on the couch. Hope to see you at a 5k later this year, Sam. The one great thing about being the last man standing is the higher likelihood you will totally smoke your age group. That’s what I’m counting on someday.