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Lakers Coach Phil Jackson says he has 'respect' for those fighting Arizona's immigration law

Los Angeles Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, responding to criticism for his comments about Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigration, released a statement Monday saying he has “respect” for those who are opposing the law.

“I’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,” he said in his statement.

“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. 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.”

Activists plan to rally outside Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles before Monday’s playoff opener against the Phoenix Suns.

“The way we look at it, Phil Jackson is supporting the Arizona law,” said Mario Gonzalez, a longtime Lakers fan and rally organizer. “That’s surprising. It caught us off guard. We want to find out where the team stands on the law.”

John Black, the Lakers” 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.

“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 said of the Arizona statute.

The Lakers coach then disputed the columnist’s assertion that Arizona legislatures had “usurped” 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.

“It’s not usurping” federal law, Jackson replied, adding that the Arizona lawmakers “gave it some teeth to be able to enforce it.”

Jackson, long known as a free spirit who in Adande’s words “has showed lefty leanings in the past,” also seems to chastise the Suns’ management for its criticism of the Arizona law.

The Suns’ owner and several players have publicly criticized the statute.

“I don’t think teams should get involved in the political stuff,” Jackson told the ESPN.com columnist. “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.”

Gonzalez, the protest organizer, said Monday’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 Jackson’s apparent support for the Arizona law and clarifying Lakers management’s opinion on the matter.

“We want to know the team and Phil Jackson’s opinion on the law,” 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 Suns’ example and come out against Arizona’s plan.

“We want to give Phil Jackson the benefit of the doubt,” said Nativo Lopez, head of the Mexican American Political Assn. “There are nuances here that Phil Jackson perhaps is not familiar with. He’s an expert at basketball but not at immigration law.”

-- Patrick J. McDonnell

Comments () | Archives (83)

As a white male I understand that I am not the target. I am a long standing Lakers fan...but I care more about the Latino and immigrant community than basketball. Innocent people who are citizens are being taken and harassed because of SB1070 and the anti-ethnic sentiment in Arizona. We need to stop being manipulated and realize that our America is about understanding, freedom, and made up of people from all nations!

I am a veteran and a smart republican. I am not against human rights!

Nativo Lopez just fouled out. Jackson is a private citizen entitled to his opinions which just happen to be shared by a vast majority--"Home Court Advantage", so to speak.

Why are the left's tactics always so over the top to communicate their perspective? Just as Dwight Howard complaining to refs about a "phantom-fouls" causes him to lose respect among officials, so it is with people who overblow and misrepresent what the AZ law really states. It is no different than federal law...the only difference is the feds won't enforce it. Kudos to AZ for the cajones to save their state from ruin. This whole idea of taking people hostage (politically speaking) is a bunch of bull.

Leave politics out of sports!
Just go back where you come from if you are illegal, or ICE will.

Why does Mario Gonzalez feel the Lakers and Phil Jackson owe him, or anyone else for that matter, a statement on where they stand on the immigration matter? They have nothing to do with the law or the State of Arizona. An entire organization cannot have one opinion. There are multiple individuals within one organization, and they probably do not all think alike. Are Mario and other Laker fans going to hate and boycott the Lakers if they support the law? Are they going to like the Lakers more if they are against the law? The two have nothing to do with each other.

"Joe" is a sellout name for JOSE

Hey Phil, You are my kinda guy.

Well, all you anti-immigrant folks, I hope you enjoy watching Steve Nash (born in South Africa), Kobe Bryant (born in Italy), Pau Gasol (born in Spain), Sasha Vujavic (born in the gates of hell), Leandro Barbosa, and Goran Dragic during this series.

This is silly. Phil Jackson is entitled to an opinion, and he can certainly do so without appearing to represent anyone else but himself. He's clearly done that already. Why does it matter that he coaches the Lakers? and why does he have to answer to these protesters? This outcry by an "organizer" is an attempt to draw attention to a non-elected official and bully another public figure. Where does this organizer work? People should ask if his employer endorses his political views as well, maybe show up to his work and protest the protest.

Wow, i just don't get it. Either way the crazies are going to be out side Staples. If the Lakers, Phil or anyone else came out and said that they are against the law or for it.

I think it absurd that people are now asking where Jackson and the Lakers stand on the Arizona law. In reality, WHO CARES what they think, the Lakers and the Laker organization are here to play basketball and entertain us, not to debate politics.

Hey may be those protestors should ILLEGALLY sneak into staples centle tonight, grab seats and if they are asked to show the ticket stubs, just tell secuity guards to stop the racial profiling and go pound sand.

I find myself wanting to scream, "please grow up!" Today, on every important social issue it seems that the people who feel slighted at the end of the issue, AFTER the debate is done, AFTER the vote was made, AFTER ... that then, in the aftermath, the time is found to argue the point. The time to argue the point is BEFORE the law is signed, BEFORE the vote takes place.

And why is it that anyone has any expectation that a person or body that is NOT involved in making any social policy owes you their opinion about any topic they are not directly involved in, political or not. Or that once an opinion is expressed, that if you don't agree with it you'll find the time and wherewithal to castigate them for having an opinion.

I appreciate that Phil Jackson took the time to express his personal opinion. Whether I agree with him or not I understand Mr. Jackson to be a well read, intelligent man and perhaps by listening my position can be better focused. Maybe in those opinions a debate can be had. But, because I may not agree with him, how ridiculous to form a protest. How ridiculous to expect any member of any sports organization to owe you any comment other than how they think their team will play.

IF we continue to find fault and reason to impune the comments of those in our society who are not directly in a position to foster social policy then soon we'll find they simply won't want to talk at all. And then the only people debating will be the politicians.

Yep, I still want to simply yell, "GROW UP."

Mr. Jackson - whether I agree with you or not, I hope you continue to be the enjoyably expressive person you are.

Laker organization, you don't owe a political based comment to anyone. Simply remind those who ask that you have done your best to field a team that wins, to form an organization that creates income for thousands in the community, and that the Lakers are a vital part of the social fabric in our city.

The reporter asked. Phil answered honestly. Freedom of speech is such a great part of the United States.

Mario Gonzalez and Nativo should be focusing their efforts on trying to teach the thug type laker fans how to be civilized in the wake of the finals outcome, win or lose.

This is as important as anything for them right now. The whole country will be watching, AGAIN...and The majority which supports this new Arizona Law may continue to grow as they watch buses and cars flipped over and burning.

If I were Jerry Buss, here's what I'd say: "The Los Angeles Lakers is a sports franchise, and the great success the team has had over the years is reflective of our organization's single-minded focus on winning. While we remain focused on our goal of bringing another championship to the City of Los
Angeles, we also support the right of our players and our coach, Phil Jackson, to voice their opinions off the court if they so choose. As a professional sports organization, we have no position whatsoever on the nation's immigration situation, and we feel it unfortunate that some would construe the personal opinions expressed by our coach as an opportunity to use the Lakers organization for their own political purposes."

Keep politics out of sports. There are plenty of other places to hear politics being discussed if you're so inclined. The Suns were wrong to take a public stand on the Arizona law and they should be sanctioned. Where is "Mr. Meddler" David Stern when he's really needed?

So what if Jackson or Lakers management supports the Arizona law? What's Gonzalez going to do? Root for Los Suns?

What do I care how Phil thinks?
What I care is that my representatives feel the same way I do about this immigration issue. Oh and that the Lakers repeat as Champions of the NBA!

I am Mexican, I live in Mexico. I always carry my federal ID and show it upon request to police, government officials, airport security, etc. This is the case wherever I travel to, including the USA.

Conceptually this new Arizona law is a no-brainer.

Now, put it in practice... By the letter of the law you will have to detain and deport countless number of people, or alternatively manage the amount of illegals required for the economics of the state and incorporate them per some plan.

Interesting process, interesting choices.

The law does not racially profile obviously none of the "activists" have read the law or understand it. It seems that they don't like the fact that in "certain" circumstances federal law will be enforced and more government law enforcement will be working to that end "when practicable". I guess the real problem for the protesters is that immigartion law is going to be enforced instead of the current situation where its not.

So now people are protesting because someone makes a comment giving his interpretation of another state's law? That is absurd.

Phil is not saying he wants the law here. What he is saying is that Arizona took something that was already illegal under US Law (Undocumented immigration) and put more consequences to it.

There are legitmate concerns about the law, but protesting his viewpoint is ridiculous and the kind of nonsense that makes people tune out any of the legitimate problems with these type of laws.

Adande asked Phil the Question because he is a Sports Reporter, these people make their money by attracting as many people as possible to read their articles: AJ is not stupid, he knew his question would attraction attention, lol, chi ching! Arizona has decided to turn their police into INS officers, apparently there is no other crime being committed in Arizona other than being an illegal alien, so their police have nothing else to do. I believe everyone that commits a serious crime should obviously have to prove they are legal US residents but a traffic violation, people please. We also know that law enforce officers who support these laws politically or that have some racial bias will use this laws as an excuse to harass legal residents! These people are human not saints and are not INS officers! The police should go after the worse elements in out society, deporting college honors students, a recent case in Georgia, because of a traffic stop, is not catching bad guys and is waste of tax payers money.

Mario Gonzalez wants to know Jackson and the Laker's opinion of the Arizona immigration law. Interesting. Since when did sports organizations become the spokespersons for state laws? Does he also want to know their opinions on abortion, gun control or off-shore drilling? If Phil says we should raise taxes to erase the deficit, will Mario start rooting for Phoenix?

Laws and rules shouldn't be enforced. They're just a hindrance......an annoyance.

If Jared Dudley attempts a 3 pointer tonight with his foot across the 3 point line, should we just give it to him?

Who made up that reductions rule anyway? That rule isn't for Dudley, it's for the other guy.
Are there good rules and bad rules?

Rules govern a sport...a game.

Laws protect people.

This was a setup. Put too much innapropriate heat on Phil Jackson and he won't be back next year. And the Lakers will be done for years.

Rather than focus on the issue at hand - basketball - the reporter went out of his way to create controversy. The fact that MAPA and other pro illegal immigrant groups were waiting to pounce makes it clear Phil was setup. The divide bewteen pro illegal and anti illegal continues to grow. Change will come. And the illegal supporters won't like it.

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