L.A. Will Boycott Arizona. Will the Lakers Follow?

Sean Gregory, Time, May. 15, 2010

After the Los Angeles city council passed legislation banning the city from doing any further business with the state of Arizona because of its new law targeting illegal immigration, some Angelenos are hoping that the L.A. Lakers will get behind the cause. In a bit of serendipitous timing, the Lakers are about to face an Arizona team, the Phoenix Suns, in the NBA Western Conference Finals, which start on Monday. Obviously, it would be absurd to expect the Lakers to boycott their series with the Suns. But as representatives of an area with the largest Hispanic population in the country, could the Lakers take some kind of stance, symbolic or otherwise, against a law the National Basketball Player’s Association has called “disturbing”? {snip}

Several members of the Suns, including star point guard Steve Nash (a Canadian), general manager Steve Kerr and owner Robert Sarver, have spoken out against the immigration measure, setting an impressive standard for modern-day political expression in sports. For their May 5 playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs, the Suns wore jerseys with the script “Los Suns.” The move was both a nod to Cinco de Mayo and a gesture against the measure. Los Suns won the game, 110-102.

Your ball, L.A. The Lakers have three foreigners on their team, including star forward-center Pau Gasol, a Spaniard. The NBA has nearly 60 basketball immigrants. “Kobe Bryant and the Lakers are like America’s team,” says Detroit Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva, who calls the Arizona law, labeled as racial profiling by it passionate opponents, “ludicrous.” Villanueva, the son of Dominican immigrants, speaks fluent Spanish. {snip}

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{snip} TIME asked the Lakers if the team had any plans to take a position on the controversial law, and the response seemed pretty clear: you’d have a better chance of seeing John McCain jumping center for the team. “We’re in the business of playing basketball,” says Lakers spokesman John Black, “and we’re not in the business of getting into a political debate one way or another.” {snip}

At this stage of the NBA playoffs, focusing on hoops is not unreasonable. “I won’t hold it against them,” says Reyes [Los Angeles city council member Ed Reyes] of the Lakers’ reticence. “I know how hard they work in the community.” Still, for immigration-rights advocates, the team’s silence stings. “It’s unfortunate,” says Lisa Navarette, a vice president at the National Council of La Raza. “We’re not asking them to go lobby the governor of Arizona. We’re just saying that you can make a gesture of support for the people who root for you. The Latino community gives the Lakers a tremendous amount of support. It would be nice for them to reciprocate when the community really needs it.”

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