Phoenix Suns Mix Sports And Politics At NBA Playoffs

The Phoenix Suns sported a different type of jersey Wednesday night while playing in the NBA playoffs. The black jerseys were emblazoned with the words "Los Suns". It was the team's way of protesting the recently-signed controversial Arizona immigration law. Host Michel Martin speaks with Sports Illustrated writer Pablo Torre about last night's game and the unprecedented mix of sports and politics on the court.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Last night, the debate over Arizona's tough new immigration law shifted to the courts, or I should say the court the basketball court, that is. The Phoenix Suns protested the immigration restrictions in their home state by sporting a new jersey that reads Los Suns during last night's playoff game. They won, by the way. They defeated the San Antonio Spurs.

Sports Illustrated writer Pablo Torre joins us now from New York to talk about this unusual mix of sports and politics. Welcome back. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. PABLO TORRE (Writer, Sports Illustrated): Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: Any idea who was driving that train or the jersey - I'm still trying to think of a good phrase for the jersey jump off or whatever you want to call it.

Mr. TORRE: The jersey jump off. Sure, I think it was it really, it started, I think with the Suns' owner, Robert Sarver, who has liberal inclinations, but really what was stunning about this was that it was pretty universal within the organization. It went from Robert Sarver the owner to the GM, Steve Kerr, to the coach, Alvin Gentry, and certainly to all the players, including Steve Nash who you played a clip of earlier, who is known as one of the more cosmopolitan players in all of sports.

And so the entire team apparently voted on this. All the officials signed off on it, so it was pretty much pretty much a united stand as far as taking an action like this.

MARTIN: Any reaction from fans? Curious about this because the polls show that as much ferment and fury as this lie has generated around the country, many people in Arizona do support it. Any reactions from fans?

Mr. TORRE: You know, last night's game from reports and from what I've heard is that it wasn't the vibrant political atmosphere that you might expect for an action that was relatively so conspicuous. The game itself, you know, one of the confounding variables in all of this, of course, is that it was a playoff game. So the fans really concentrate on the action on the court.

Yes, there were a couple of protestors here and there, a couple of people quoted in various reports and that I've heard about who objected to it, but beyond that, you know, it was hard to sort of gauge it, at least at the game last night. So, certainly I'm sure that it's not a united response. Not obviously the entire fan base are conservatives who expressed disapproval of it because sports is obviously so famously apolitical. But in this case, the game last night was actually relatively quiet and peaceful on the political front.

MARTIN: Well, to that end, though, you say that sports is famously apolitical. I want to ask you about that. Is that true? I mean, we often hear when issues like this arise, well, sports and politics don't mix or shouldn't mix. Like, for example, when sports teams are asked to boycott a particular place in part because of some political action that has taken place.

Like, for example, here there are those who are arguing that Major League Baseball's All-Star game should be moved from Arizona if this law, in fact, goes into effect. But then politics and sports are intertwined, aren't they? I mean, so I guess the question for you is how is this kind of action without precedent? This is something new.

Mr. TORRE: Well, that's a great question. And one of the, you know, if you look at the landscape of how at least in the stitching of a uniform in this sort of united concrete way, the only really precedent there is is for causes that have been fairly uncontroversial and unanimous. You're talking about supporting the troops, breast cancer awareness, MLB has done that. You know, and even the Suns, this I mean, it's important to note also that the Los Suns moniker had been used two times before as part of Latino-themed nights in the NBA.

So it wasn't created specifically for this case and obviously it also happened on Cinco de Mayo. I think an interesting experiment would've been to see whether they would've done this on a night that didn't also have this excuse almost to maybe do it for other nonpolitical reasons, although the Suns obviously took an admirable step in coming out in favor of it.

But you're right, I mean, it's, there's an interesting dynamic where sports -it seems like teams obviously are foremost businesses and a lot of teams don't want to be the first toe in the pool when it comes to risking public outrage and backlashes. That's...

MARTIN: Well, you remember when Michael Jordan was asked to weigh in on a Senate race in his home state of North Carolina.

Mr. TORRE: Exactly.

MARTIN: And he famously...

Mr. TORRE: Republicans buy sneakers too.

MARTIN: Right, was said to have remarked: Republicans buy sneakers too. So do you think that other teams, Pablo, are you getting any sense that other teams might follow suit here or in making some kind of public statement about issues like this in which for they seem to have a consensus, where they feel that it's particularly vital to speak up. Do you think that this could be the beginning of a trend?

Mr. TORRE: I hope so. And, actually, the Spurs' coach, Gregg Popovich, who is one of the more open-minded intellectual coaches in the game was asked whether he wanted to do it. And he actually said, we wanted to make it Los Spurs also, but they didn't have time to get the jerseys. So regardless of that particular case, I think the next interesting frontier will be what baseball does. The MLB Players' Union has already come out in opposition of it. Curious to see what they'll do on the baseball fields.

MARTIN: All right. Sports Illustrated writer Pablo Torre joined us from our bureau in New York. Pablo, thank you.

Mr. TORRE: Thanks, Michel.

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