Immigration activists to protest outside Laker game over Phil Jackson comments

Immigration activists plan to demonstrate outside tonight's Lakers-Phoenix NBA playoff game at Staples Center because Lakers coach Phil Jackson declined to criticize Arizona's recently adopted illegal immigration law.

"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 said during his pregame news conference May 4.

Jackson made his comments in response to a question from ESPN.com columnist J.A. Adande about his thoughts on Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver having his team wear its "Los Suns" jerseys for their May 5 game partly in response to the law and partly because of the Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Jackson then asked Adande if his interpretation of the law was correct. Adande said Arizona "usurped the federal law."

Jackson disagreed, saying "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."

SB 1070 empowers local law enforcement to check the immigration status of suspects they have stopped for other reasons if there is a reasonable suspicion they are in the country illegally. The law specifically bars police from racial profiling.

Jackson sometimes makes inflammatory statements to get into the heads of opposing players and their fans during the playoffs, and some Suns fans have written to Arizona newspapers to express support for the Lakers because of his comments on the immigration issue.

It was unclear if that was a factor in his comments, which prompted the Mexican American Political Association and Southern California Immigration Coalition to decide to picket Monday's Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Suns.

"We are not happy with the position that Phil Jackson took," Nativo Lopez, the president of the Mexican American Political Association, said. "We want to call on Jackson and the Lakers to put on their Los Lakers jerseys, especially considering the tremendous support that the Lakers have enjoyed from the communities specifically targeted by the misguided and racist Arizona law."

The groups also "want to welcome Los Suns of Arizona and thank them for the symbolic support," Lopez said.

The Lakers will not wear their Los Lakers jerseys for any playoff games, Lakers spokesman John Black said. He was unaware of anyone from the Laker organization being contacted by either group.

"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."

Jackson made similar comments May 4.

"I don't think teams should get involved in the political stuff," Jackson said. "I think this one is still kind of coming out to balance as to how it is going to favorably looked upon by ... the public.

"If I heard 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."

A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press May 6-9 found that 59 percent of the 994 adults surveyed supported the Arizona law, while 32 percent disapproved.

The Lakers wore the Los Lakers jerseys for their March 21 game in connection with the NBA's "Noche Latina," program, part of the NBA's marketing efforts aimed at Latinos.

The activists plan informational picketing at 5 p.m. outside the ESPN Zone restaurant at the LA Live complex, before marching to protest in front of Staples Center.

Lopez said he understands those who want to avoid politicizing the best-of-seven series that will determine the Western Conference representatives in the NBA finals.

"My whole family is fanatical sports fans and say `Don't touch my team with anything that smacks of politics,'" Lopez said. "But we're more worried about the people that are being victimized in Arizona."

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to join an economic boycott of Arizona.

"Grandstanding politicians in Los Angeles have jumped into our political business," Arizona Republic sports columnist Dan Bickley wrote in Sunday's edition.