Here's a little background on the story of the Phoenix Suns' brave choice to protest a racist, un-American Arizona state law by wearing "Los Suns" jerseys for their Cinco de Mayo home playoff game against San Antonio, a move hailed by, among others, President Obama:
On March 21 the Suns were wearing their "Los Suns" jerseys for a home game that happened to be carried by ESPN and Steve Nash was surprised to see that his stand-up interview going into halftime would be conducted by reporter Pedro Gomez, who most associate with his high-profile work covering baseball for the network.
Gomez asked a question about Nash's foul trouble in the first half and Nash replied, totally dead-pan, "Estaba buscando fastball, pero ..." in flawlessly accented Spanish, that is to say, "I was looking fastball, but ..." It was a great moment in TV, hilarious especially for anyone who speaks Spanish and knew the background, but above all, it was Nash winking at the many Spanish speakers he knew were part of the fan base of the team and the NBA. Nash's wife is from Paraguay and he obviously speaks Spanish with her sometimes.
The point is: The team's decision to wear the "Los Suns" jerseys again this week was clearly a political protest, a timely one and a good one, but it was also a political protest that made sense because Nash - in leading the team on the floor - and team officials were honestly showing their true passion on this issue. Nash was born in South Africa and raised in British Columbia, so the issues involved here are no abstraction to him.
The Arizona law is a national embarrassment. Anyone who believes in the U.S. Constitution should be appalled - and celebrate the Suns for their tasteful and timely protest.
Two other points on this - anyone who parrots the sheltered-child's fantasy that sports are somehow "separate" from politics, or "above" it, understands neither sports nor politics. What people who say this usually mean is that they want THEIR politics supported by sports, directly and indirectly. What is it if not political to start postseason baseball games with fly-overs of fearsome American stealth bombers? What is it if not political to require that all fans stand for the National Anthem before every single game, usually with garish displays of flag waving?
I write these words from Berlin, Germany. Suns GM Steve Kerr attracted attention by ripping the Arizona law in no uncertain terms, telling the Arizona Republic: ""It's hard to imagine in this country that we have to produce papers. It rings up images of Nazi Germany. We understand that the intentions of the law are not for that to happen, but you have to be very, very careful. . . . It's important that everyone in our state and nation understands this is an issue that needs to be explored. So, we're trying to expose it."
That same Republic article noted that Suns owner Robert Sarver very much took on this controversy by choice, asking the players if they agreed to wear "Los Suns" jerseys. As he told the paper, referring to Senate Bill 1070, "as I read through the bill, it felt to me a little bit like it was mean-spirited, and I personally just don't agree with it."
The forces of hate are on the march in American politics these days. The best reaction is not to scream back at them, not to foam at the mouth in answer, but to calmly take a stand for what is important. The Suns were already my favorite basketball team and I already considered Steve Nash the coolest player in the NBA (I've followed him since he played for Santa Clara and I was a San Francisco Chronicle sportswriter). Now I'm more convinced. Thanks to the team for stepping up.