It was Native American Heritage Night at the Oklahoma City Thunder
game November 16 when the Thunder hosted the Houston Rockets. The
highlight of the evening was the beloved bison mascot 'Rumble.'
His name became a roar when he came out sporting a traditional Native
American ribbon shirt as part of the month long observance of Native
American Heritage Month.
Chris Smith (Kiowa/Creek) who works for the Fox Sport Oklahoma
broadcast crew kicked off some social media chatter about what Rumble
should do or wear out of respect for his Native American friends.
It didn't take long for the post to go wild with comments. Immediately
getting the big 'no' was the war bonnet headdress reference. Many
suggested the idea of Rumble proudly wearing a 'ribbon shirt.' Ribbon
shirts are a standard traditional clothing article worn by Native
American men socially and for traditional dances and ceremonies.
That ball got bouncing and two Native females stepped up to
the plate to make Rumble's ribbon shirt. Gloria Tate (Kiowa/Comanche)
and Mary Helen Deer (Kiowa/Creek) took on the challenge and measured
Rumble's burly physique and came up with a masterpiece in Thunder
"I was personally nervous of the thought," said Tate. "I was
worried about people liking it or saying something negative about
it." Deer was conscientious of the magnitude of being seen nationally.
"There have been so many people who have had mascot mishaps and,
for the most part, it's been an insult. The Thunder organization
had the sensitivity to inquire before they made any moves," Deer
Oh, the public liked it all right! Rumble erupted on social
media, his Facebook page alone got more likes, comments and shares
than any other post he's ever had except for one: a recent worldwide
social media experiment, called the 'mannequin challenge.'
"We wanted to celebrate Native American Heritage Night
appropriately and by incorporating Native American traditions. Rumble's
ribbon shirt was custom-created by members of the Kiowa, Creek and
Comanche tribes, and we feel it resonated well with our fans and
the Native American community," said Rumble. He also posted
on his Facebook site that he was proud to represent all tribes with
his custom ribbon shirt.
And custom it is with a little added flare. "We had to think
about it quick and hard and put it out of our mind the traditional
way some and think of it as stage and showbiz or production," said
Deer. Deer and Tate made sure the color scheme of the fabric was
a perfect match to the Thunder while, at the same time, paying close
attention to original Native artistry.
Tate carries on the talents of her maternal grandmother who
was a master seamstress. She had to laugh about the once-in-a lifetime
experience. "You always see Rumble running around, working the crowd.
We had to find material that had some flexibility to it. We also
wanted to see the ribbons flying behind him. He did wonderful and
respectful.", said Tate. Both Tate and Deer said they cannot thank
the Thunder organization enough for the thoughtfulness they gave
the Native American community for taking the sensitivity of Indian
Mascots seriously. For Brian Byrnes, Thunder senior vice president
of Sales and Marketing, the decision to recognize Native culture
was simple: "We have always felt a deep connection with the
Native American community, and we saw November, which is National
Native American Heritage Month, as the perfect opportunity to celebrate
and incorporate Native American traditions into our game programming.
Last night, the National Anthem was performed by a member of the
Comanche Nation, while the colors were presented by the Seminole
Nation Honor Guard; our mascot Rumble the Bison wore a custom ribbon
shirt as a tribute to all tribes in the region; and the Fancy Dancers,
a dance troupe representing 39 tribes from across Oklahoma, brought
traditional Native American song and dance to our fans at Chesapeake
While Native mascots have been a hotly debated topic for decades,
on this November night, Tate explained, Rumble and his ribbon shirt
seemed to have struck the right chord. "We always hope to gain respect
with his custom ribbon shirt, all I could do was scream and
keep yelling and oh my goshing! It was an awesome sight."
Rumble spent the first portion of the game in his ribbon shirt.
Then the Native American Fancy Dance Troupe performed at halftime.
Thunder won over the Houston Rockets 105 to 103.