Phoenix to wear Los Suns jerseys, bringing politics to court

Art Garcia,


May 4, 2010

PHOENIX -- The basketball court is rarely, if ever, the site of a political statement, much less during an NBA playoff game. Politics are going to be center court Wednesday night.

The Suns are taking aim at Arizona's controversial new immigration law during the Western Conference semifinals. Phoenix owner Robert Sarver is outfitting his team in "Los Suns" uniforms for Game 2 against San Antonio. The game also happens to fall on Cinco de Mayo, a traditional holiday celebrating Mexican heritage and culture.

Sarver is also using the high-profile platform to voice the organization's frustration with the nation's toughest law on immigration. The act, signed into law in late April, is designed to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants.

"We think it's appropriate what the Suns are doing," NBA commisioner David Stern told

Critics contend that the Arizona act will lead to racial profiling. A number of boycotts and protests in Arizona are in the works.

"Our players and organization felt that wearing our 'Los Suns' jerseys on Cinco de Mayo was a way for our team and our organization to honor our Latino community and the diversity of our league, the State of Arizona, and our nation," Sarver said in a statement released by the team. "We are proud that 400 players from 36 countries compete in the NBA, and the league and the Suns have always considered that to be a great strength of the NBA.

"The frustration with the federal government's failure to deal with the issue of illegal immigration resulted in passage of a flawed state law. However intended, the result of passing this law is that our basic principles of equal rights and protection under the law are being called into question, and Arizona's already struggling economy will suffer even further setbacks at a time when the state can ill afford them."

Phoenix players backed Sarver's decision to wear the alternate jerseys. So did the Spurs organization. The NBA also signed off on the Suns' move.

The NBA Players Association released a statement criticizing the law and praising the Suns for the move.

"The recent passage of the new immigration law in Arizona is disappointing and disturbing," said Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBAPA. "The National Basketball Players Association strongly supports the repeal or immediate modification of this legislation. Any attempt to encourage, tolerate or legalize racial profiling is offensive and incompatible with basic notions of fairness and equal protection. A law that unfairly targets one group is ultimately a threat to all.

"We applaud the actions of Phoenix Suns players and management and join them in taking a stand against the misguided efforts of Arizona lawmakers. We are consulting with our members and our player leadership to determine the most effective way for our union to continue to voice our opposition to this legislation."

The Suns and Spurs are among several teams that wore "Los" jerseys during the league's Noche Latina initiative during March.

The meaning Wednesday goes much deeper.

"We're all proud to wear our Los Suns uniforms tomorrow night for Cinco de Mayo," Suns guard Steve Nash said. "Obviously the passing of the recent bill and what that means to our state, to civil liberties, and the quality and precedent it's setting, and message it sends to our youngsters in the community, we have a problem with that. It's great that our owner took the initiative and our players are behind him."

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich would have gone with the "Los Spurs" jerseys if possible. The team only has one set of that uniform back in San Antonio, having sent the second back to the NBA. (Teams need two sets of uniforms for a game.) Popovich added that the Spurs had talked about addressing the immigration topic with Phoenix later in the series.

"It's a great idea," Popovich said. "I think that came from Mr. Sarver and it's a wonderful idea because it kind of shows what we all should be about. Sure there needs to be a lot of work done, obviously. A lot of administrations have done nothing about the immigration deal and now everybody is paying the price, especially a lot of people in Arizona.

"That's a bad thing, but the reaction is important, too. And this reaction, I agree with Mr. Sarver, is inappropriate. It's kind of like 9-11 comes and all of a sudden there's a Patriot Act, just a kneejerk sort of thing that changes our country and what we stand for. This law smacks of that to some degree, so I think what he's doing tomorrow night is very wise and very correct."

The Suns aren't the only one making a political statement Wednesday. Civil rights activist Al Sharpton is leading a protest march from the Pilgrim Rest Church in downtown Phoenix to the Arizona Capital building. The march will pass US Airways Arena. The choir from Pilgrim Rest sang the National Anthem on Monday night before Game 1, which Phoenix won.

Other states, including Texas, are studying the Arizona law and considering drafting their own versions.

"I hope they change [the law] back to what it was and give the workers the possibility to be legal and pay taxes as everyone else," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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