Why Native American heritage fuels newest Warrior Waters

Why Native American heritage fuels newest Warrior Waters originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

Sitting by the pool on family vacation in Mexico, Lindy Waters III learned his life was about to change the morning of the second day of the 2024 NBA Draft. Born in Norman, Okla., all the 26-year-old has known is the Sooner State.

That changed one week ago, June 27, when Warriors general manager Mike Dunleavy sent the Warriors’ second-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder to acquire the shooting guard who can light it up behind the 3-point line.

“I wasn’t really surprised, but it took me a little time to process,” Waters said to reporters Wednesday at Chase Center. “This is my first time going through something like this. I’m thankful that I had my family with me.”

Waters grew up playing with Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young and starred together at Norman North High School. While Young became a top draft pick his one season at Oklahoma, Waters played four years at Young’s rival Oklahoma State.

After going undrafted, Waters’ long journey to where he is now began in The Basketball League for the Enid Outlaws in Oklahoma. Six months later Waters was signed by the Oklahoma City Thunder’s G League affiliate, the OKC Blue, after impressing the organization at a tryout.

In February of 2022 he then signed a two-way contract for his hometown team, where Waters has spent the last three seasons between the G League and NBA.

“It’s pretty crazy coming from where I come from, to be able to make it through pretty much all the cities in Oklahoma and then make it to the big leagues,” Waters said. “That alone gives me confidence to know that I can take my talents wherever and be successful.”

All the trials and tribulations he went through in Oklahoma have guided Waters this far. But his true guiding lights comes from Waters’ heritage that he’s extremely proud of, and now will represent in the Bay Area.

Waters is an enrolled member of the Kiowa Tribe, with its headquarters being in Carnegie, Okla. He also is part of the Cherokee Nation. Oklahoma has the largest Cherokee population in America – extending to the surrounding areas of Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri – followed by California.

As one of the few citizens of a Native American tribe to make it to the NBA, Waters’ pride in his people extends past any one state.

“It means everything to me,” Waters said. “There aren’t too many people who are able to do something like this, coming where I come from. And I know I have a huge influence on my community. Especially coming from Oklahoma, I see a lot of people that look just like me. So I’m trying to be an inspiration for them, trying to do the right thing and continuing to show them that these things are possible.”

The same year Waters made his NBA debut in 2022 he founded the Lindy Waters III Foundation, which aims to enhance and support Native American youth and indigenous communities through sports, leadership programs and health and wellness. Waters has a golf tournament in Tulsa that provides scholarships, and also runs basketball camps for kids in North Dakota, North Carolina and Oklahoma.

Waters even has a basketball tournament lined up on his birthday, July 28, where he’ll be giving scholarships to kids going to college, and says 10 or 11 were given last year. An Intertribal Council named Waters the “Indian of the Year” in 2018. He was named a finalist for the NBA 2023-24 Social Justice Champion Award, and in March Waters was inducted into the North American Indigenous Athletics Hall of Fame.

“There’s more important things in life than what we see on TV,” Waters says. “There’s family, there’s traditions, there’s culture. The materialistic things come and go. You can never control those things. But the things you can control is how good of a person you.

“I think being around my family and relatives and tribes and trying to give back to my community, I think that’s shaped me into the person I am today and that just translates to the basketball court.”

Getting the Chase Center crowd off its feet from a deep 3-pointer is a rush Waters is ready to experience. The real work comes off the court, and Waters knows he’s far from done there, striving to continue making his people proud.

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