“Los Suns” Play Basketball with a New Purpose: Shedding Light on Arizona

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There are some memories you never forget, and some of those memories may even change the course of your life. I’ll never forget the excitement of seeing my first National Football League game. A twelve year old at the time, my father and I glimpsed perfection in the Metrodome of Minneapolis as the Minnesota Vikings embarrassed the Chicago Bears by a score of 48-22 – my fate was sealed as a life-long Vikings fan. 

Then my family moved to Arizona – so I tried to acclimate as best I could by making the Phoenix Suns my basketball team. But with the proximity of the U.S.-Mexico border beckoning for my acknowledgment of reality, I suddenly found myself seated in a circle with the women and children of Lomas del Poleo, listening to their struggle with the injustices of minimalist wages and blatant civil and human rights violations committed against women both as they work in and travel to the maquiladoras that figure ever so prominently along the Mexican landscape that bumps up against the international line. 

As is the case for many, I was completely unsettled by the injustice and exploitation occurring in the name of lower prices and corporate greed by multi-national corporations. I had born a new passion, to do whatever I could to advocate for peaceful and just relations with our neighbors in Latin America.

Yet while pursuing my passion for just U.S. – Latin America relations, I’ve stood by my Minnesota Vikings and Phoenix Suns, which doesn’t always feel easy. I mean talk about contradictions. Buying my fair-trade products and preaching economic justice while I eat up the entertainment offered by players like Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns, whose contract guarantees $12,250,000/year (’08-09 figures from USAtoday). And that’s a modest salary for the two-time league MVP.

What do you do with that kind of money? Imagine the amount of goodwill you can offer with that – sounds all too familiar doesn’t it, if you’re thinking U.S. budget priorities.

Putting numbers aside, you can only imagine my delight when on May 5th the Suns donned the “Los Suns” jerseys as a statement of solidarity with the Latino community and opposition to SB 1070. The decision came as a proposition of team owner Robert Sarver that was unanimously agreed to by the Suns’ players and even received the league’s blessing.

Always a Steve Nash fan, now I’m fanatic. Normally known for dishing out assists on the court – he managed to do so 10 times while also scoring 33 points en route to their 111-102 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in game one of their playoff series – Nash also offered up his opposition to Arizona’s backwards legislation.

“It’s a clear-cut issue for me… I don’t agree with this bill… I think the bill opens up the opportunity for racial profiling, racism. I think it puts the police in an incredibly difficult position that isn’t fair to them. It’s an infringement on our civil liberties to allow the possibility for inequality to arise in our community.”

The move couldn’t come at a better time, with the Suns facing their historic nemesis in the Spurs while Arizona’s residents confront unheard-of immigration legislation. You see, the Spurs are known for playing dirty – Spurs player Robert Horry blatantly hip-checked Steve Nash into the scorer table and out of the playoffs in 2007. You could say they’re like the Russell Pearce of the legislative world – the Arizona State Senator who proposed and stands by the principles of his draconian legislation.

And interestingly enough, if you look at the history of the state, pressure from sports leagues may be part of the ‘game plan’ to defeat SB 1070 before it ever takes effect. The National Football League’s decision to pull the 1993 Super Bowl from the state, along with boycotts, played an influential role in finally realizing state legislation that officially recognized the nationally proclaimed holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.

A statement released by the National Basketball Association’s Players Association reflects that the Sun’s decision has created league-wide discussion, and hopefully league-wide action! “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.”

Momentum is quickly building against SB 1070. And I couldn’t be more thankful to public figures like Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns organization for their willingness to take a break from beating the San Antonio Spurs in their “Los Suns” jerseys to bring light to a critical issue of civil and human rights and warmth to the heart of a social justice-minded, sports enthusiast like myself.

Note: The Suns won 110-102 on May 5th to take a two-games-to-none lead in the series, which they went on to clinch in a clean sweep of four games.