UH's Kelvin Sampson welcomed back home by members of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina

Greg Bailey Image
Tuesday, March 7, 2023
Lumbee Tribe packs UH's visitor section to cheer on Kelvin Sampson
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"Been a Lumbee my whole life, and I'm proud of it," Coach Sampson said as members of the ninth-largest tribe in America came to support him as he led UH to a victory earlier in the

GREENVILLE, North Carolina (KTRK) -- Proudly wearing her pinecone bracelet, a sacred symbol to the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, Karen Sampson looked at all the familiar faces in Greenville, North Carolina.

"It's a hometown boy done good. It's that story. All these people either knew my parents. They knew Kelvin's parents. They played for Kelvin's dad. They were coached by Kelvin's dad, " Karen Sampson said.

They packed the visitors' section at UH's game at East Carolina on Feb. 25. The Lumbee community has come to welcome a member of their family home.

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Ronnie Chavis coached Kelvin Sampson in high school and knows what it means to the Lumbee Tribe to see one of their own achieve so much.

"They are so proud of him. They are so proud of him. It's unbelievable," Chavis said.

He still talks regularly to his former baseball star, still there are times when Coach Sampson's remarkable success is hard to comprehend.

"In 1972-73, when I coached Kelvin, I knew he was gonna be something special, but I never envisioned this type of special," he said.

Kelvin Sampson returned with a Final Four favorite and national championship contender on this night.

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"Anything of our heritage, the Lumbee people, when they come together. It's awesome to see him do what he does. Anybody succeeding from our neck of the woods it's great. I love it," Chavis said.

James Chavis, Ronnie's son, was a sixth- when Coach Sampson flew him to a basketball camp at Oklahoma. James Chavis told ABC13 that it was a life-changing experience, leaving his small Lumbee community to see everything Coach Sampson built at OU.

Years later, he is still inspired by Sampson. "It's amazing to think that someone of our heritage is coaching the #1 team in America," he said.

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Rita Locklear grew up with Kelvin and Karen Sampson. Their friendship has grown, and she's cheered for Kelvin at every stop as he climbed the coaching ladder.

"He's never forgotten who he is, his family, his tribe, and his community. He just gives back in every way he possibly can. They have been as welcoming as if you were walking into their living room. And he has offered his home to our community wherever he's been," Locklear said.

That's a common theme for the Lumbee people, who are deeply touched that Sampson never forgot his roots.

"It means a lot to us to see that he recognizes us. He stands for his tribe. He speaks for his tribe," Robie Hunt, a Lumbee member, said.

Coach Sampson stayed late after another convincing win to shake hands, hug friends and pose for photos with his extended family. When ABC13's Greg Bailey asked him about the experience of coming home, Kelvin responded: "Our roots in North Carolina are strong. Been a Lumbee my whole life, and I'm proud of it."

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