May 17, 2010 17 Comments ›› Pat Dollard
Los Angeles Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, responding to criticism for his comments about Arizonaâ€™s crackdown on illegal immigration, released a statement Monday saying he has â€œrespectâ€ for those who are opposing the law.
â€œIâ€™ve been involved in a number of progressive political issues over the years and I support those who stand up for their beliefs. It is what makes this country great,â€ he said in his statement.
â€œI have respect for those who oppose the new Arizona immigration law, but I am wary of putting entire sports organizations in the middle of political controversies. This was the message of my statement. I know others feel differently, even in the Lakers organization, but it was a personal statement. In this regard, it is my wish that this statement not be used by either side to rally activists.â€
Activists plan to rally outside Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles before Mondayâ€™s playoff opener against the Phoenix Suns.
â€œThe way we look at it, Phil Jackson is supporting the Arizona law,â€ said Mario Gonzalez, a longtime Lakers fan and rally organizer. â€œThatâ€™s surprising. It caught us off guard. We want to find out where the team stands on the law.â€
John Black, the Lakersâ€ vice president for public relations, did not respond to telephone messages seeking comment.
Sparking the furor are remarks made by Jackson to ESPN.com columnist J.A. Adande in which the Lakers coach seems to back the incendiary Arizona law, which allows local police to check citizens documents and arrest them if they don’t have them.
â€œAm I crazy, or am I the only one that heard [the legislature] say, â€˜We just took the United States immigration law and adopted it to our state?â€™â€ Jackson said of the Arizona statute.
The Lakers coach then disputed the columnistâ€™s assertion that Arizona legislatures had â€œusurpedâ€ federal immigration law — an allegation widely made by critics who say the law could lead to racial profiling of Latinos.
Supporters say the state law complements federal statutes and deny any intent to target Latinos.
â€œItâ€™s not usurpingâ€ federal law, Jackson replied, adding that the Arizona lawmakers â€œgave it some teeth to be able to enforce it.â€
Jackson, long known as a free spirit who in Adandeâ€™s words â€œhas showed lefty leanings in the past,â€ also seems to chastise the Sunsâ€™ management for its criticism of the Arizona law.
The Sunsâ€™ owner and several players have publicly criticized the statute.
â€œI donâ€™t think teams should get involved in the political stuff,â€ Jackson told the ESPN.com columnist. â€œIf I heard it right, the American people are really for stronger immigration laws, if Iâ€™m not mistaken. Where we stand as basketball teams, we should let that kind of play out and let the political end of that go where itâ€™s going to go.â€
Gonzalez, the protest organizer, said Mondayâ€™s rally was not meant as a call to boycott the Lakers or root against the L.A. squad in its push to repeat as league champions. Rather, he said, the action is aimed at condemning Jacksonâ€™s apparent support for the Arizona law and clarifying Lakers managementâ€™s opinion on the matter.
â€œWe want to know the team and Phil Jacksonâ€™s opinion on the law,â€ Gonzalez said.
Supporters of the rally said they wanted to give Jackson and the Lakers the opportunity to clarify their position on the Arizona law. Activists voiced the hope that both the Lakers and Jackson would follow the Sunsâ€™ example and come out against Arizonaâ€™s plan.
â€œWe want to give Phil Jackson the benefit of the doubt,â€ said Nativo Lopez, head of the Mexican American Political Assn. â€œThere are nuances here that Phil Jackson perhaps is not familiar with. Heâ€™s an expert at basketball but not at immigration law.â€