The Devil and the NBA (Second Half)

The NBA wasn’t always ensnared by the wiles of the devil we all carry inside. In the perennial struggle between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in our “agonized womb of consciousness,” (R.L. Stevenson), Mr. Hyde does not always win.

                (Now the buzzer sounds, and the Second Half begins.)

Steve Nash dribbling the ball (Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons).

Steve Nash dribbling the ball (Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons).

One tries to forget the devilish, mean spirited rhetoric surrounding the passage of the infamous SB 1070 law by the Arizona Legislature and Governor Jan Brewer in 2010. From that dark, vituperative cloud, one scene stands out, one statement that nailed the issue: a very young man, smiling in the way that only the young can smile, holding up a poster that proclaimed: “Hey NASH! JAN Needs To See Your DOCUMENTS.” (Daily Kos)

The message of this tricksterish placard was aimed at Mr. Steve Nash, two-time MVP, heart and soul of the Phoenix Suns, and a Canadian citizen. It pointed out the flaw that ultimately proved fatal to SB 1070 in federal court.

The law was sold as an attempt to curb illegal immigration in Arizona. It required—required, mind you—law enforcement personnel to demand, upon suspicion of illegal status, official documents from residents. How to distinguish between legal and undocumented residents? By forcing all legal residents, under penalty of law, to carry proof of legal immigrant status. Thus the warning to Steve Nash; and thus the conclusion, reached by the rest of us, that the law was really a pushback against ALL immigrants—legal or not.

And then a wondrous thing happened—one of those instances when the U.S. lives up to its high ideals of freedom, justice and equality. Mr. Robert Sarver, owner of the Phoenix Suns, decided that the team would wear their Spanish jerseys—“Los Suns!”—for their game against the San Antonio Spurs on the Fifth of May—a day of Mexican-American celebration in the southwest. Sarver meant it as a protest against SB 1070: “I thought that we need to go on record that we honor our diversity in our team, in the NBA, and we need to show support for that.” NBA Commissioner David Stern, endorsed the Suns’ actions (“we think it’s appropriate”); all the Suns players were in favor of the protest; the Spurs added their support; and Suns co-captain Nash summed up his position: “It’s a clear-cut issue for me.” (Arizona Republic, May 4, 2010)

Wearing a sports jersey with Spanish words may seem a lame protest, as protests go. But we are in Arizona, where only our sports franchises have power enough to curb the tomfoolery of politicians. We celebrate the Martin Luther King holiday because the NFL threatened to cancel the 1993 Super Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium; and Governor Brewer vetoed SB 1062 (an anti-gay bill) after statements of outrage by the business community, and the threat by the NFL to move to another venue the Super Bowl in Phoenix this year.

“Los Suns” was a true affirmation of diversity in the face of substantial public pressure against the team’s statement. That took courage; I fail to see it in the Clippers case.



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