On a recent NPR Morning Edition “Watch This” segment, the guest was author and poet Sherman Alexie, who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation and won a National Book Award for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. In the episode Alexie spoke with NPR’s Steve Inskeep about the movies, TV shows and YouTube videos that he thinks everyone should see. Below are transcripted excerpts from the episode, including Alexie’s selections of Billy Mills, Oglala Sioux, winning gold in the 10,000-meters at the 1964 Olympics, Vince Carter’s have-to-see-to-believe slam dunk at the 200o Olympics, and yes, the infamous Patterson Sasquatch video from 1967. You can listen to the entire program by clicking here.
Billy Mills’s 10,000-meter win at the 1964 Olympics
Alexie described this race as “probably the greatest upset surprise in Olympic history.” And it would be no wonder if it was, since, coming into the 1964 Olympic Games, an American had never won the men’s 10,000-meter race.
“Billy Mills, a Sioux Indian who was really lightly regarded, came out of nowhere to win the race and to win the gold medal,” Alexie said. Australia’s Ron Clarke, with a qualifying time almost a minute faster than Mills’, had been favored to win.
“That burst of speed that Billy Mills puts out is like Usain Bolt. He just goes flying past — and this is a 10,000-meter race,” Alexie said.
The race is so surprising that Alexie almost sees something divine in it. “In the Indian world, there’s all sorts of stories about, you know, God reaching down and deciding that this Indian guy was going to do it. And that’s what it looks like, regardless of how you feel about God — it certainly looks like some other force grabbed him and pushed him.”
Vince Carter’s 2000 Olympic slam dunk
“This is the Holy Grail for basketball fans and the Olympics,” Alexie said.
At the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, the American men’s basketball team faced off against France in a preliminary game. At one point, 6-foot-6 American Vince Carter practically jumped over 7-foot-2 Frenchman Frederic Weis for a slam dunk.
Alexie believed the move was stunning, saying, “It is — remains — the single most athletic move of all time.”
Alexie wasn’t the only one spellbound by Carter’s feat.
“If you look into the crowd, you see people stunned — I mean, far fewer people are standing and cheering than you’d expect, because I don’t think they believe what they just saw,” Alexie said.
The U.S. team won the game and, perhaps unsurprisingly, won the gold when they faced France in the finals.
Roger Patterson’s Sasquatch video
“It’s the most famous visual record of Sasquatch — Bigfoot,” Alexie said of the footage.
The film, which is only about a minute long, has inspired multiple documentaries questioning its authenticity. It was purportedly shot in Northern California in 1967 by Roger Patterson, a rodeo star and Yakima Indian, a fact that Alexie was quick to add.
It shows a Sasquatch — or perhaps a guy in a gorilla suit — walking through the woods.
Though Alexie considers himself a “Sasquatch agnostic,” he points to a long tradition of such a creature in the stories, art and culture of Native Americans. The idea of a giant primate roaming the American backwoods isn’t new, but Alexie is fascinated by the Bigfoot legend’s ties to Native American myth.
“Even if Sasquatch isn’t real, as of course is very likely, the powerful American myth of it — we tend not to think of our country in terms of its myth, in terms of its creation stories,” he says. “We tend to rely on European influences, and we don’t think about American myth. Sasquatch is most definitely an American myth. I love that power of it, that there is something distinctly ours.
“If nothing else, it’s the celebration of that other great American tradition — the hoax, the prank.”