By J.A. Adande
This goes down as a first. Never before have I asked a question that led to a protest.
Phil Jackson has a variety of interests beyond basketball, so back on May 4, at his pregame news conference before the Lakers played the Jazz, I wondered what he thought about the Phoenix Suns’ decision to wear their “Los Suns” jerseys as a sign of support for Latinos who were outraged about Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070.
First he asked what all the fuss was about for a bill that, in his opinion, merely enforced existing federal laws against illegal immigration. He's allowed to ask that question.
Then he said he disagreed with the Suns mixing politics with sports. That’s his opinion.
But when activists decided to protest Jackson’s opinions before Game 1 of the Western Conference finals the whole thing had strayed too far from the original issue.
I liked Suns owner Robert Sarver’s decision to enter the fray because it’s refreshing to see teams take a stand on issues that matter to their community. After all the flak Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods have received for not speaking out on politically touchy subjects it’s hypocritical to criticize those sports figures who do. We can’t act as if sports exist in a vacuum.
I don’t see the point in protesting one man’s opinion on a law that exists in another state. Jackson was speaking on his own behalf, a completely different situation than the Suns. Sarver made his comments through a team news release, and it came after he checked with coaches and players and drew a consensus. If people wanted to express their disagreement by avoiding the game or refusing to buy Suns gear that’s their option.
In Los Angeles it never reached the point that Jackson needed a police escort to the game, but he did feel the need to issue a statement clarifying his remarks and requesting his comments be left out of the debate.
Two hours before the game I saw a man wearing a bright yellow outfit and carrying an American flag with anti-SB 1070 messages written on it. His name was Andres Meza and he drove up from Orange County to voice his opinion.
Meza said Jackson “should be a little wiser” and “he should show support” for those who protest the bill. He walked alone, but said he was expecting about 50 people to join him.
“A lot of times people come late,” he said.
How L.A. – they’re even fashionably late to a protest.
An hour before tipoff the numbers had swelled closer to the number Meza projected. The protesters held signs that said “Phil: Say No To The Racist Bill” and “Phil: Shame on you.” They chanted “Los Lakers.”
Except they had the wrong target in the wrong state. Take the fight to the people responsible for the law and the citizens who voted them into office, not a person voicing his opinion in another jurisdiction. Let’s get back to arguing about the issues instead of the arguers.
Phil Jackson has been one of the most interesting and entertaining voices in the NBA. He should be allowed to speak freely without fear of repercussion as long as he isn’t denigrating people or using offensive characterizations.
Between David Stern threatening coaches who disparage the officials and protestors calling him out, I’m afraid we’ll get to the point where Jackson simply says “no comment.”