HARDIN -- Not a day has gone by in the past 15 years that Famous Lefthand hasn’t touched a basketball. In fact, he sleeps with a ball tucked under his arm every night.
It’s more than just a round object to Famous — he treats the ball like it has a soul of its own.
“My dad told me that ball can take me places,” said Famous, a senior on the Hardin boys basketball team. “I see what it has done for me already and I respect it greatly.”
Famous first picked up a basketball at the age of 5. His first hoop was made from a clothes hanger and clung tightly to the back of his door. Even then, he was fascinated with the ball going through the hoop.
“I love the sound of the ball going through the net. It’s a feeling I can’t explain,” he said.
When he was younger, Famous’ mother, Carlotta Ware, encouraged him to play with the older kids. They didn’t like it, admitted Famous, but he viewed it as a challenge. His mother, a former standout athlete herself, saw his talent early on.
Many of today’s youth are traveling across the country to elite basketball camps and tournaments. Sure, that’s one way to improve, but Famous learned to play basketball the old-school way: on the black top, often under the headlights of a parked car. For cold Montana nights, the gym was always open.
He frequented local tournaments with a group of kids he now refers to as his brothers, and many are the same guys he plays with today. Famous got a taste of what it was like to have success early, and it hasn’t stopped there.
Winning basketball games, whether you’re 5 or 18, is so much more than just a tally in the win column or a number on the scoreboard to the Crow Reservation, where Famous is an enrolled tribal member. Basketball symbolizes hope and unity.
“It means a lot to everyone,” Famous said. “Some people don’t get out often and the games are their entertainment. Everyone wants to see all the kids succeed, so the Crow people support each other, and we run in packs. Once I get a schedule, I hand it out to everyone I see so they can come to the games.”
There’s no doubt Famous is a local celebrity and role model, and it’s a position he doesn’t take lightly.
“I like the role because I just want to inspire people and the younger generation. I want to stay on the right path and show people what it’s like to work hard and have success,” he said. “I recruit people to work out with me in the park day and night.”
Famous knows the impact he’s had on the younger generations in part because his work ethic is visible for everyone to see. Before the bus leaves for away games, Famous is in the gym at 5 a.m. By 8 a.m., he has an audience of young kids watching intently as he works on his craft.
Followers have come to know Famous can be found in the gym before every home game, too. He’s not to leave until he makes 150 jump shots, 150 3-pointers and 100 free throws. It’s a routine he’s set for himself. And that’s before the game even starts.
Famous credits his mother and his will to simply want to be the best for his second-to-none work ethic.
“The drive really comes from the fact that I just want to get better,” Famous said. “My mom is the one who has kept me on the straight and narrow and taught me wrong from right. She was strict and works hard. I look up to her, and she is my role model.”
The four-to-six hours of practice he puts in a day give Famous the confidence to stay cool, calm and collected on and off the court.
When asked if feels pressure to bring home a state championship, his response might seem unexpected: “No, I don’t feel anything like that at all. I believe in myself and my teammates. My community believes in me and I don’t get nervous. I will still be supported no matter what happens and, at the very least, I’ve inspired kids.”
Make no mistake, Famous wants to bring that state championship trophy back to the Crow people, and he likes his chances. His team is quick and has the size to go along with it. Famous is averaging 24 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals per game while shooting 43 percent from the field.
Despite all the accomplishments, trophies, and attention, Famous is slow to talk about himself. It’s about the team, the community and the younger generation. In true Famous fashion, he has some words of wisdom for those around him.
“Don’t be satisfied with your success — there is always someone better than you. Look for something to improve on,” he said. “Partying and drinking are not an escape — you’ll be stuck in your ways.”
As much as he has enjoyed every minute of his career at Hardin and has used his popularity wisely, Famous can’t help but think about college. Yet he doesn’t feel any pressure around going to college or playing basketball for Rocky Mountain College on a scholarship, either.
“I don’t want to be like any other star,” he said. “I just want to make a name for myself like I did in high school.”
With a name like Famous, how could he not?