Maybe what the Phoenix Suns basketball team needed during their historic sweep over the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals was a little courage and teamwork to stand up for what's right.
Joining the fray of criticism against Arizona's new anti-immigrant law, the Suns decided to wear "Los Suns" ("The Suns" in Spanish) on their jerseys in Game 2 against the Spurs on May 5 as way to protest the draconian measure.
The Suns went on to beat the Spurs 110-102 in Game 2.
Suns owner Robert Sarver - with unanimous support from the players - said the team wore the jerseys on Cinco De Mayo "to honor our Latino community and the diversity of our league, the state of Arizona, and our nation."
The team wore the jerseys to honor the Mexican holiday, widely celebrated in the U.S., and to reflect their belief that signing the Arizona law was not the right way to handle the problem of immigration, said Sarver.
Sarver, born and raised in Tucson, Ariz., told The Associated Press he's frustrated with the federal government's failure to address immigration reform, which he said led to the passage of "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," the Phoenix Suns owner said. "And Arizona's already struggling economy will suffer even further setbacks at a time when that state can ill afford them."
The law makes it a state crime to be in Arizona without proper documents and authorizes local police to check the legal status of anyone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant. These provisions are being widely assailed as unconstitutional and spurring extreme racial profiling.
Suns General Manager Steve Kerr said the organization felt it was their "duty" to address the issue.
"It's hard to imagine in this country that we have to produce papers," Kerr told the Arizona Republic. "It brings up images of Nazi Germany. We understand that the intensions 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."
The NBA and the league's players union supported the Suns decision to protest the law.
In a statement the players union, the National Basketball Players Association, said it welcomes the Suns decision and criticized the controversial law, calling it "disappointing and disturbing."
"We applaud the actions of the Phoenix Suns players and management and join them in taking a stand against the misguided efforts of Arizona lawmakers," said the union. "We are consulting with our members and our players leadership to determine the most effective way for our union to continue to voice our opposition to this legislation."
Suns co-captain Steve Nash, a South African-born Canadian who has a green card to work in the U.S., said the idea to wear the jerseys and protest the law is "fantastic."
"I think it's very important for us to stand up for things we believe in," Nash said. "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, who wore a "No war. Shoot for peace" T-shirt during 2003 All-Star Game interviews, said he has no problem expressing his political views under the basketball spotlight.
Speaking to the Arizona Republic, Nash added, "I don't agree with the spirit of the bill or the message it sends, not only to people in our community but how it represents our community across the country and the world."
Nash said the Arizona law opens up the door for racial profiling and encourages racism.
"I think it puts the police in an incredibly difficult position that isn't fair to them," he said. "It's an infringement on our civil liberties to allow the possibility for inequality to arise in our community."
Arizona sports teams including Major League Baseball's Diamondbacks have become targets for national protests and calls for boycotts since the bill was signed.
Baseball fans and players have said they plan to boycott the 2011 All-Star Game, which is scheduled to take place in Phoenix, unless the law is repealed. The Major League Baseball Players Association also opposes the measure.
The Suns decision to come out against the law is the first time a state sports entity has taken a public stand on the issue.
Speaking to reporters before Game 2 Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire said, "It's going to be great to wear 'Los Suns,' to let the Latino community know that we're behind them 100 percent."
Many argue politics and sports just don't mix. However others recognize the unity and solidarity displayed by the Suns players and their fans proves when it comes to social justice, standing up for what's right on or off the court - is truly a winning combination.
After sweeping the Spurs in four straight games the Suns have advanced to the finals where they will play the winner of the series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz. As of Saturday, the Lakers lead that series 3-0.
Civil rights activists note the movement for comprehensive immigration reform has found a new ally in the Suns basketball team. They add the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. will be rooting for Phoenix. And regardless of who takes home the grand trophy at the end of the NBA finals, the Suns will always be remembered as champions of the 2010 playoffs, they say.
Photo: Phoenix Suns forward Amare Stoudemire (1) wears a "Los Suns" jersey during the first quarter of Game 2 of an NBA second-round playoff basketball series against the San Antonio Spurs, May 5, in Phoenix. (Matt York/AP)