The Phoenix Suns will wear "Los Suns" on their jerseys in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals on Wednesday night, owner Robert Sarver said, "to honor our Latino community and the diversity of our league, the state of Arizona, and our nation."
The decision to wear the jerseys on the Cinco de Mayo holiday stems from a law passed by the Arizona Legislature and signed by Gov. Jan Brewer that has drawn widespread criticism from Latino organizations and civil rights groups that say it could lead to racial profiling of Hispanics. President Barack Obama has called the law "misguided."
Sarver, who was born and raised in Tucson, said frustration with the federal government's failure to deal with the illegal immigration issue led to the passage of what he called "a flawed state law."
"However intended, the result of passing the law is that our basic principles of equal rights and protection under the law are being called into question," he said, "and Arizona's already struggling economy will suffer even further setbacks at a time when the state can ill-afford them."
The measure makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally, and it directs local police to question people about their immigration status and demand to see their documents if there is reason to suspect they are illegal.
The controversy surrounding the law has led to picketing at some road games of baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks and a call from the Rev. Jesse Jackson for major league baseball to move next year's All-Star Game from Phoenix.
Sarver came up with the "Los Suns" jersey idea but left it up to the players for the final decision, Suns guard Steve Nash said, and all of them were for it.
"I think it's fantastic," Nash said after Tuesday's practice. "I think the law is very misguided. I think it's, unfortunately, to the detriment of our society and our civil liberties. I think it's very important for us to stand up for things we believe in. As a team and as an organization, we have a lot of love and support for all of our fans. The league is very multicultural. We have players from all over the world, and our Latino community here is very strong and important to us."
Nash was born in South Africa and moved with his parents to Victoria, British Columbia, when he was 1½ years old. He was one of four Canadians to light the torch in the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympics this year.
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said his team was interested in taking part but couldn't get new "Los Spurs" road jerseys in time for the game.
"It's a wonderful idea," Popovich said. "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's paying the price, especially a lot of people in Arizona. That's a bad thing, but the reaction is important, too, and this reaction (the Arizona law), I believe with Mr. Sarver, is inappropriate."
Phoenix general manager Steve Kerr said he and Sarver talked about making the gesture as the team flew home from Portland last week.
"We just felt like it was important," Kerr said. "We're in the public eye and this is obviously a huge issue. We acknowledge there are two sides to the issue and there are a lot of dynamics. It's a difficult thing to sift through and there are going to be differing opinions. But what we're focusing on is we want to celebrate the diversity that exists in our state and the diversity that exists in the NBA, make sure that people understand that we know what's going on and we don't agree with the law itself."
The NBA Players Association released a statement criticizing Arizona's immigration law and praising the Suns for the gesture.
"We applaud the actions of Phoenix Suns players and management and join them in taking a stand against the misguided efforts of Arizona lawmakers," the NBAPA said. "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."
But Kerr said "this isn't a huge political stand as much as it is just a celebration of diversity."
He said the Suns called the NBA for approval "and they were all for it."
Suns coach Alvin Gentry didn't want to comment on Arizona's immigration bill and said he was focused on showing appreciation for the Latino community and Arizona's diversity.
"I'm not trying to duck it," Gentry said. "I don't know enough about it to really comment on it. I would think that if it had anything to do with racial profiling, then obviously as an African-American I would not be for anything that had any hint of racial profiling."
The Suns wore the "Los Suns" jerseys twice in the regular season, and won both games.
"It's going to be great to wear Los Suns," Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire said, "to let the Latin community know that we're behind them 100 percent."