UNITY Youth Take Center Court with Phoenix Suns

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UNITY was proud to partner with the Phoenix Suns to feature UNITY Native youth leaders in releasing the Phoenix Suns’ newest city uniform — as an homage to the diverse Native cultures in Arizona. UNITY played a big role in bringing all the Arizona tribes together for the Phoenix Suns’ ORIGINATIV launch. For more information, visit their website.

New Phoenix Suns uniforms capture the spirit and symbols of Arizona’s Native population
by Debra Utacia Krol, Arizona Republic

Members of the Phoenix Suns and UNITY youth representatives from the 22 tribes in Arizona pose for a photo during a marketing shoot for the 2022-2023 City Edition uniforms at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Ariz., on Oct. 14, 2022. The City Edition uniform pays tribute to the rich histories and cultures of the tribal nations of Arizona and celebrates their shared love of basketball. ALEX GOULD/THE REPUBLIC

A collaboration between Nike and a Navajo designer led to the Phoenix Suns’ newest city uniform — an homage to the diverse Native cultures in Arizona.

Each year, the NBA team works with Nike to create the City Edition uniform, said Graham Wincott, the Suns’ senior marketing director. The last city uniform was the popular “The Valley” set that sported brilliant Sonoran Desert sunset colors on a black background.

“The Valley” was kept for a second year due both to its popularity and the pandemic, when few fans were able to see games, he said. During the two-year process to develop the newest city edition uniform, the Suns relied on its 20-year-long relationship with the Native American Basketball Invitational, known as NABI, and the team’s connection to Indigenous basketball as inspiration.

While the pandemic raged and the NBA — along with the rest of the world — shut down, the new city jersey became the Suns’ marketing team’s focus, Wincott said. The team sought guidance for the design by reaching out to all 22 of Arizona’s Native tribes, as well as organizations like the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, United National Indian Tribal Youth, or UNITY, the Heard Museum, the Phoenix Indian Center and Cahokia SocialTech and ArtSpace, an Indigenous-led gallery and artists’ space on Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row.

Suns small forward Cameron Johnson (23) and Miss White Mountain Apache Princess Shatalya Darissa Titla speak with each other at the Phoenix Suns’ City Edition uniform preview at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Ariz., on Oct. 14, 2022. ALEX GOULD/THE REPUBLIC

The uniform, set for release Nov. 10, is made from a bright turquoise fabric. The color turquoise represents one of the most important motifs in Southwestern Indigenous cultures: the shared belief that the earth is living and all things are precious. According to a statement from the Suns, the turquoise uniforms will serve as the team’s suit of armor.

A new logo inspired by the Native American medicine wheel, which originated in Northern Woodlands tribal cultures and has grown in significance to many tribes throughout the nation, is depicted on the waistband of the shorts. It represents the four cycles of life and the four cardinal directions.

The 22 feathers in the medicine wheel logo and the 22 arrowheads lining the bottom of the shorts represent each of the tribal nations in Arizona. The black tape running down the jersey top and shorts features the word for ‘sun’ in each of the tribes’ languages or dialects, and is perhaps the uniform’s most important feature, the team said in a statement.

The team also created a matching hardwood design with the medicine wheel at center court and the 22 translations for ‘sun’ along the perimeter. The medicine wheel will be placed so that the white and black colors face north while in its fixed position in the arena.

Members of the Phoenix Suns and UNITY youth representatives from Arizona’s 22 tribes pose for a photo during a marketing shoot for the 2022-2023 City Edition uniforms at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Ariz., on Oct. 14, 2022. ALEX GOULD/THE REPUBLIC

“Being a part of this this project and this program has really hit home for me,” said Shawn Martinez, the Suns’ senior director of live presentation. “I know how much it’s going to mean to all 22 tribal nations in Arizona.”

Martinez, a Diné from Fort Defiance, said he played basketball in high school and was thrilled to support the uniform design process even before coming on board with the Suns.

The new uniforms were designed by the Suns in consultation with Navajo designer Lacey Trujillo from N7, Nike’s Native American and Indigenous youth support program that also creates Indigenous-themed sports wear.

The new uniforms were modeled by Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton and point guards Chris Paul and Cameron Payne on Oct. 14 in front of an audience of youth from the 22 tribes in Arizona and tribal leaders.

Three Indigenous athletes currently play in the NBA. Lindy Waters III, a guard with the Oklahoma City Thunder, is an enrolled member of the Kiowa Tribe and is related to the Cherokee Nation. MarJon Beauchamp, a guard playing with the Milwaukee Bucks, is a descendent of the La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians. Kylie Irving, a guard for the Brooklyn Nets, is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

The Suns will wear the uniform throughout the 2022-2023 season starting with the home game on Nov. 16 against the Golden State Warriors. The team will wear the uniform 10 times at home as part of a season-long celebration series hosted by Gila River Resorts and Casinos honoring the 22 tribes in Arizona. The Suns and the Gila River casinos have a sponsorship partnership.

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