Lakers coach Phil Jackson is under fire – and it’s got nothing to do with a basketball decision. His support of Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 has some L.A. natives redrawing their rooting allegiances along political lines for the upcoming Western Conference finals.
Activists plan to demonstrate outside the Staples Center before Monday’s Game 1 to protest the 10-time champion’s stance on Arizona’s racially divisive bill, which has already prompted L.A. city council to vote 13-1 to "ban most travel there and to forego future business contracts with companies headquartered in the state."
AltoArizona.com has led the charge by starting a petition that urges Jackson to "Stand with Los Angeles," painting the "Zen Master" as anything but one with the community.
But in comments made to the ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande, Jackson made it clear he doesn’t believe his opinion betrays the Lakers’ large Hispanic fan base.
"Am I crazy, or am I the only one that heard [the legislature] say, 'We just took the United States immigration law and adopted it to our state?'" Jackson told Adande.
Jackson then countered Adande’s argument that the bill "usurped" federal law, saying it "gave it some teeth to be able to enforce it."
Huffington Post columnist Dave Zirin came out in full force against Jackson in a May 17 article, urging Laker fans to support Hispanics in their community by hanging up the purple and gold in favor of Los Suns gear.
In the article, Zirin says his opinion was compounded when Jackson followed up his remarks with criticism of the Phoenix organization’s silent protest of the law, telling Adande, "I don’t think teams should get involved in the political stuff."
Jackson later clarified his original sentiment, claiming he does "respect" those who disagree with the law. But many Lakers fans remain torn.
"We want to give Phil Jackson the benefit of the doubt," said Nativo Lopez, head of the Mexican American Political Association, told the Los Angeles Times. "There are nuances here that Phil Jackson perhaps is not familiar with. He’s an expert at basketball but not at immigration law."
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