Steve Nash to the Lakers: the political impact

In explosive sports news that upstaged even the fireworks on the 4th of July, the Los Angeles Lakers announced that they had traded for Phoenix Suns All-Star point guard and two-time Most Valuable Player Steve Nash. Nash even at the ripe old age of 38 is still among the best in the sport having averaged 12 points and almost 11 assists in 2012. He's also arguably the finest shooter of his generation, with staggering lifetime shooting percentages of 49% from the field, 43% from three point land, and over 90% from the foul line.

Understandably people are already recalibrating the 2012-2013 season, wondering if Nash and his future Hall-of-Fame teammate Kobe Bryant can not only co-exist but compete for a championship.  I'm personally wondering how Nash will look in purple and gold which is as bizarrely unsettling as picturing Magic Johnson in Celtic green. I also am genuinely flummoxed about how Nash’s unique skill set, which involves dribbling all around the half court until finding an open shooter, will mesh with Kobe's Bryant's desire to be genetically fused with the ball like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly.

But a less discussed question is the political impact, if any at all, of Steve Nash playing in the white-hot spotlight of Laker-Land. Nash has played most of his career in Arizona,  the state Jon Stewart once described as "The Meth Lab of American Democracy." More than perhaps any elected official in the state, Nash has stood out as a voice of sanity. He spoke out against the troop escalations during the Bush wars, wearing a T-shirt that read, "No war. Shoot for peace." Nash said he choose to wear the shirt because, "I think that war is wrong in 99.9 percent of all cases. I think [Operation Iraqi Freedom] has much more to do with oil or some sort of distraction…. Unfortunately, this is more about oil than it is about nuclear weapons.” Nash has also spoken out for LGBT Marriage Equality, recording commercials in New York State when the legislature was considering legalization. This is a pro athlete who admitted casually to reading the Communist Manifesto as a way to better understand Che Guevara.  I wish that wasn’t a controversial thing to say, but it is and he said it.

But above all else, he’s also is the player responsible for organizing his Suns squad to speak out against Gov. Jam Brewer's radical, "papers please", anti-immigration bill, SB 1070.  On Cinco de Mayo, 2010, Nash organized the entire team to wear jerseys that read Los Suns.He said, "I think the law is very misguided. I think it is unfortunately to the detriment to our society and our civil liberties and I think it is very important for us to stand up for things we believe in. I think the law obviously can target opportunities for racial profiling. Things we don't want to see and don't need to see in 2010."

One person who didn't like what they had to say, however, was Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

In an interview with ESPN, Jackson spoke out in support of SB 1070 saying, "Am I crazy, or am I the only one that heard [the legislature] say 'we just took the United States immigration law and adapted it to our state.'" When sports writer J.A. Adande remarked that SB 1070 could mean "the usurping of federal law," Jackson said, "It's not usurping.... they gave it some teeth to be able to enforce it."

Jackson, the ex-60s radical, then challenged the Phoenix Suns right to even talk about it, saying:

"I don't think teams should get involved in the political stuff," If I heard it right the American people are really for stronger immigration laws, if I'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 it's going to go."

But Phil might have been one of the few people in Los Angeles who didn't like Los Suns. The LA city council voted 13-1 to "ban most city travel there and to forgo future business contracts with companies headquartered in the state." Now it's rumored that Phil Jackson might come back and actually coach the Lakers. Jackson is famous - or infamous - for assigning books to players to read. Maybe if he comes back, Nash could suggest something to him.

The bigger question, though, isn’t about Nash’s politics or the clash that could result from a possible Jackson return. It’s whether Nash will use the hyper-exalted platform of being a Laker to be loud and proud about the issues that matter to him. If the past is any guide, he will continue to speak out. But it’s one thing to do it as the unquestioned leader – and cash cow – of the Phoenix Suns. It’s another thing to do it in the purple and gold, while trying to wrest the basketball from Kobe Bryant’s steely grip.  If Nash does continue to be that rarest of outspoken athletes, he’ll undoubtedly find the heat in Los Angeles to be even greater than it was in the Arizona desert. But he’ll also find a helluva lot more shade.

14 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Top Players CAN Speak Out With Impunity

As Dave's article points out, first-tier professional athletes like Steve Nash can stridently voice progressive political opinions without suffering meaningful reprisals from fans, owners, or corporate sponsors. (Phil Jackson is no longer meaningful.) Although it's probably a different story for second and third-tier types.

Too bad that more top-notch ball players don't follow Steve Nash's lead! He's an MVP both on and off the court.

Depends on what he does after playing days

In all likelihood it doesn't change much about his profile. Given his age, he will plausibly retire soon, and his identity as a player is mostly cast with Phoenix. He wore his anti-war t-shirt in Dallas, and opposed the Arizona laws while playing for the Suns, indicating he is not afraid of polite confrontation of conservative fanbases. When he did take his stances, he took some momentary flack, but he is affable enough that nobody resented him for long.

Even if Jackson does return to the Laker picture, I don't see Nash's stances being an issue. Jackson may not agree with him, but he has played and coached in NY, Chicago, and LA. If homogeneity--political or otherwise--were that important to him, those would probably not have been his preferred locales. He may have moved rightward in his old age, but he is also literate. Just because a guy holds an opinion or set of values does not mean he expects--or wants, for that matter--everyone in his environment to agree with him.

Finishing his career in a major media market, it would be easy to picture Nash transitioning into entertainment or politics after retirement. In southern California, there is a definite overlap.

zarin...

always looking for negatives.

and zarin it has to be asked: why do athletes have to be political anyways? do you need an athlete to speak on issue so you know how to feel about it??

Nash’s politics

Athletes are people. Some people are political. Nash is person with political opinions. He has a platform and chooses to use it on occasion. We can freely agree or disagree with him. I don't think he has any responsibility to withhold his opinions because he is a high profile athlete. If the opinions he expresses were especially damaging to the NBA or the Suns he would find himself out of work. Clearly that is not the case.

Sorry Unibrow. . .

But athletes do have the right to express their political viewpoints. You have the right to agree or disagree as you see fit. And Dave Zirin (BTW, please note the CORRECT spelling of his name) doesn't need a athlete or sporting figure to tell him how to feel about an issue. I'm sure he's smart enough to do that by himself.

It's not about athletes being silenced

It's not that they can't speak their opinion, so much as many of them have little desire to speak. Politics is personal. As humans we react to political and socioeconomic events because we see how they affect us. When you're studying to get into college, working a minimum wage job to make some money, and researching financial aid channels to see whether you'll be able to attend school, you develop opinions of academic, business, and government policies.

When we're talking about active athletes, we're usually talking young men, mostly under age 30, so there is a limit to the life experiences many of them have. Think of how many of these athletes live before they become multimillionaires. In basketball, if you're among the most talented you spend your summers on the AAU circuit, and other amateur tournaments. You play some high school sports and go to classes when you must. You spend a comfortable year or so on a college campus, where in some cases you're the biggest celebrity in town. You make a pro team, and by age 21 you earn more money than most Americans will make in 40 years of toil.

There are pros and cons to the lifestyle, but to get to the highest level of many of these sports means you don't live just like everybody else in your age group. In some cases you literally have different high schools, then intercollegiate sports teams competing for your services, then professional sports franchises and even sponsors vying to pay you money, how much perspective do you have? How upset are you going to be with the status quo? One (mostly true) stereotype of Americans is that we (I am one) do not think globally. How outraged, or indeed intellectually curious, are you about current events when life has gone mostly well for you? If you talk to retired athletes who have been removed from the sport for a few years, you get some interesting perspectives and conversations. With active athletes, you find a good many young people with few interests and life experiences beyond sport.

It's not about athletes being silenced

It's not that they can't speak their opinion, so much as many of them have little desire to speak. Politics is personal. As humans we react to political and socioeconomic events because we see how they affect us. When you're studying to get into college, working a minimum wage job to make some money, and researching financial aid channels to see whether you'll be able to attend school, you develop opinions of academic, business, and government policies.

When we're talking about active athletes, we're usually talking young men, mostly under age 30, so there is a limit to the life experiences many of them have. Think of how many of these athletes live before they become multimillionaires. In basketball, if you're among the most talented you spend your summers on the AAU circuit, and other amateur tournaments. You play some high school sports and go to classes when you must. You spend a comfortable year or so on a college campus, where in some cases you're the biggest celebrity in town. You make a pro team, and by age 21 you earn more money than most Americans will make in 40 years of toil.

There are pros and cons to the lifestyle, but to get to the highest level of many of these sports means you don't live just like everybody else in your age group. In some cases you literally have different high schools, then intercollegiate sports teams competing for your services, then professional sports franchises and even sponsors vying to pay you money, how much perspective do you have? How upset are you going to be with the status quo? One (mostly true) stereotype of Americans is that we (I am one) do not think globally. How outraged, or indeed intellectually curious, are you about current events when life has gone mostly well for you? If you talk to retired athletes who have been removed from the sport for a few years, you get some interesting perspectives and conversations. With active athletes, you find a good many young people with few interests and life experiences beyond sport.

what about Canada?

This story was HUGE north of your borders, as Steve Nash is one of Canada's most well-known athletes, and our best basketball player ever. The rumors had him coming to Toronto, and many felt betrayed when he didn't . I felt that if politics would be discussed in this regard, it would acknowledge that other countries exist

what does shade mean here?

The "heat" in LA will be the pressure; the spotlight. The "shade" is a metaphor for what?

The shade...

I interpreted "shade" to mean support from the LA fan base for Nash's political views despite the heat from those who oppose his views. In Arizona there isn't as much support for immigrants rights as there is in many (or some) parts of California.

The shade...

I interpreted "shade" to mean support from the LA fan base for Nash's political views despite the heat from those who oppose his views. In Arizona there isn't as much support for immigrants rights as there is in many (or some) parts of California.

Steve Nash and Arizona

As a Leftist, a sports fan, and a native Arizonan, I will miss Steve Nash playing for "my" team with all my heart. He is one of those athletes who makes me proud to say I'm a sports fan, instead of vaguely dirty. Yes, it's easier to say his piece because he's white. But the fact remains that he doesn't have to say anything. In fact, it would almost assuredly be advantageous for him to keep his mouth shut. And, yet, he speaks out. I have nothing but admiration for that. Even if he eliminated my Arizona Wildcats from the NCAA tourney back in the day.

Nash and Jackson

It's interesting to consider the political trajectories of Nash and Jackson in the context of broader social and political forces, as you do so well in telling the story of John Carlos and Tommy Smith. In Nash's case, the absence of a sustained mass movement has to some degree limited his impact. In Jackson's the movement's decline combined with the enormous material success he experienced to facilitate some sort of devolution. This is, after all, a man who actively supported Native American rights and explicitly questioned the morality of capitalism at one point in his career.

replica iwc

Go ahead and purchase watches that you've received your eye on.

14 Reader Comments | Add a comment

PLEASE NOTE: This forum is for dialog between Edge of Sports readers. Discuss!

Submit your comment below:

Your Name

Email

(Only if we need to contact you—not for advertising purposes)

Subject

Message

Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
Become an Edge of Sports Sustainer (Click Here)


Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com