Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson refused to criticize Arizona’s new immigration law, triggering a backlash among activists who plan a protest outside Staples Center on Monday night.
Jackson was asked two weeks ago about a plan by the Phoenix Suns to wear their Los Suns jerseys during a playoff game on May 5, Cinco de Mayo. The immigration law spurred the Suns’ decision to use the jerseys to honor Arizona’s Latino community.
“Am I crazy, or am I the only one that heard when the legislators said that ‘we just took United States immigration law and adapted it to our state?'” Jackson responded.
When the reporter suggested that Arizona had usurped federal law, Jackson corrected him. “It’s not usurping, they just copied it, is what they said they did, the legislators. Then they give it some teeth to be able to enforce it.”
The biggest questions about the law center on how it could be enforced without leading to racial profiling of Hispanics and without alienating residents in Hispanic neighborhoods with whom police have spent years trying to build trust.
The law, which is scheduled to take effect July 29, has triggered protests and prompted several cities to boycott Arizona businesses. Los Angeles is the largest of those cities.
“I 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,” Jackson said in a statement issued Monday.
He said he hoped his statement would not be used by either side to rally activists.
Activists want the Lakers to put on the Los Lakers jerseys they wore for a game on March 21 and in years past to honor Hispanic fans. Lakers spokesman John Black said those jerseys will not be worn during the playoffs.
“We will not be getting involved in choosing sides among our many different support groups in any debate, nor will we be getting involved in political issues of this nature,” Black said.
“Our focus and goal at this time is on basketball, winning games, and hopefully winning another championship, which we feel the vast majority of our fans want us to focus on,” he added.