Sports are powerful. They unleash a high-spirited side unknown to most of us, create heartfelt stories that spark changes in the community, and shed light on the critical social issue through someone else's lens.
What if I were to tell you that all this was achieved when the Phoenix Suns’ jersey design paid tribute to the customs, cultures, and native languages of each of the 22 tribes of Arizona?
This eye-opening design came together after two years of hard work and included input from all the resident tribes of the state.
The efforts were made closely in collaboration with Nike’s N7 Program, Native organizations, local indigenous artists, and the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, which consisted of 21 leaders from the 22 Tribal Nations of Arizona, as well as the Navajo Nation to ensure each nation was included in the development process.
The jersey design is a collection of multiple intricate design choices that strategically honor the state’s Native American roots. The turquoise color represents the protection of living stone, derived from the mutual belief that the earth is living and all living things are priceless. The Sun’s new uniform logo takes inspiration from the Native American medicine wheel, displayed on the waistband of the shorts and representing the four cardinal directions and cycles of life. The black tape on the sides of the jersey features the word “SUN” in the native language of each tribe.
It is no surprise that basketball is a widely watched sport in Native American communities because what’s not to love? Reservation basketball reigns supreme as passionate crowds swarm into gymnasiums from Tonto Apache to Navajo land and every corner in between.
According to Shawn Martinez, Sun’s Senior Director of Live Presentation, the new jerseys will symbolize hope to all the Native American kids who will see their favorite players rocking the new uniforms. He won our hearts when he introduced himself in the native language of Navajo and told the players that the handmade beaded medallions are a source of protection and that he wears it as a shield.
Arizona is home to one of the largest indigenous populations in the US, with tribal lands making up over 25% of the country's landmass. During the press release, Martinez shared that the presence of all 22 native languages of the Arizonian tribes is significant in showing the perseverance and resilience of the nation’s cultures. “Many of these languages were never written down and have passed through generations for centuries,” he said.
From the start, the team was eager to engage tribal communities in developing and designing the jersey. This helped them change and improve it with correct and culturally relevant details that would otherwise be overlooked. The support the design received from the tribes made the dedication and effort all the more special and gave all of us something to believe in. Martinez describes the endeavor as a “collective effort” and hopes to inspire other teams to take similar initiatives. The Phoenix Suns also have a new basketball court to match their jerseys.
All in all, the new design of the team's uniform is perhaps the most historically significant concept that represents the organization and members involved and the 22 tribes that came before us.
Feature image from NBA.com