ARLEE — Out of the nearly 5,000 people who live on the Flathead Indian Reservation, there’s only one who the community calls the dunk master.
Isaac Fisher, 23, has been playing basketball since he was a young boy. He’s 6 feet, 10 inches in height, but that’s not the only reason people look up to him.
“He’s a leader, and he’s so young right now,” said Arlee community basketball player Erica Shelby. “He understands the issues on our Reservation and how he was raised, and how he’s trying to better his life. He’s just a really good model for all of our youth here.”
Fisher teaches young athletes on the Flathead Indian Reservation and in Missoula how to better their skills in basketball. The young leader also continues perfecting his craft by one-on-one training in Missoula.
“Growing up on the Reservation, I know there wasn’t a lot of access or training or stuff that does that,” Fisher said. “So I kind of want to bring that to the Flathead Indian Reservation and provide that to the kids."
Teaching these young athletes in Arlee is his way of giving back to the community that shaped him to be the person he is today.
“Growing up, I had a rough hand of cards dealt with," Fisher said. "I was born into a rough life with my mom and dad. They were two, young teenagers at the time still. They had four boys. They still wanted to drink and party and live that ‘Res’ life.”
At just 2 years old, Fisher said his mother and father were headed their separate ways and the parents wanted to take two boys to live separately from the other two.
“My aunt and uncle were like, ‘No, they’re brothers. They have to stay together. They can’t grow up without knowing who their brothers are,’” Fisher said.
Fisher said that period of his life was rough, but he and his brothers were later taken in by his aunt and uncle after couch surfing in different houses of family members.
“Ever since we were with them, it was just basketball, basketball,” Fisher said.
At 15 years old, Fisher started practicing his dunking skills. After hearing a speech from Native American slam dunk artist Kenny Dobbs, Fisher decided he could become a Native dunker himself.
“Go ahead, just name a Native American athlete or any famous Native,” Fisher said. “It’s not too many, right? So, I’m just trying to be that guy for these kids. Be that positive influence, that person for them to look up to and say, ‘OK, I can strive to do this. He can do it; I can do it.’”
Now, teaching the youth on the Flathead Indian Reservation is his way of paying it forward.
“These kids really need a hero or like a mentor or something here, especially here in the Valley,” said Arlee resident and father Sonny Brockway. “They don't have a lot of people like that. This is kind of their little home away from home. So many of these kids, they come here and it keeps them out of trouble. Keep them from doing things they shouldn’t be doing and Isaac’s here on occasion to teach them. He’s doing a great job. He’s an amazing kid.”
Brockway’s son trains with Fisher at the Arlee Community Center. He said he’s grateful that someone in the community has taken a genuine interest in the Flathead Reservation youth, and the fact that he’s Native, is a bonus.
“You don’t really see many Native dunkers,” said Bo Brockway, an Arlee basketball player and one of Fisher’s trainees. “I think he’s really cool, especially coming from a small town like Arlee and doing all these crazy dunks. He’s gone to the most popular dunk contests in the world.”
From Denver, to Spokane and in the Garden City, Fisher competed in four dunk contests, won three and took home a second place title in a competition between him and dunk artist Dobbs.
“What made me want to help train kids and help kids in general just on the Flathead Indian Reservation is my aunt and uncle, what they did for me and my four brothers at that young age," Fisher said.
Without his aunt and uncle, Fisher said he knows he would’ve had a different life. One that’s far away from the Reservation and the court. He said that’s why he’s adamant about helping the youth.
“I don’t want them falling into bad stuff like gang-related stuff or alcohol, or, suicide is pretty heavy on the Reservation nowadays, and I just don’t want any more kids doing that,” Fisher said.
Community basketball player and member of the Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Shelby, said Fisher is her main motivator to hit the gym and to be a better person in the community.
“Oftentimes, our Native athletes are under-recruited because of negative stereotypes and Isaac is proof of that,” Shelby said. “Basketball is more than a game when it becomes an avenue to better one’s life and Natives face more barriers than non-natives because of hurtful prejudices.”
She also said Fisher is always at the gym either perfecting his dunking skills or doing drills with young athletes.
One of the athletes Fisher works with is Tony LaHaye, and he said he’s motivated by Fisher and looks forward to training at the Arlee Community Center.
"I try to learn my own way, but he’s pretty good at all of them. All the videos I watch on YouTube, I learn a lot more from him,” LaHaye said.
In addition to him training young athletes at the Arlee Community Center, Fisher is also coaching a youth basketball team in Missoula. He’s open to helping more athletes in Western Montana. Anyone interested can reach him by phone at (406) 370- 7866 or email Isaac59821@icloud.com.