PHOENIX — As the Phoenix Suns’ 2022-2023 regular season comes to a close, the teams’ showcase of Native culture has made its mark on the professional sports world. 


On April 4, the team hosted its 10th and final ORIGINATIV night of the season during a game against the San Antonio Spurs, its 65th consecutive sold-out game to a crowd of 17,071. 

ORIGINATIV night showcases an all-out Native theme from the entrance, signage, special recognitions, music and entertainment — both for the National Anthem and the halftime performances. Additionally, during ORIGINATIV nights, the Suns play in their City Edition uniforms — a collaboration between the NBA and sports-wear giant Nike to showcase the unique heritage of NBA teams’ home city — on a court designed to pay recognition to all 22 federally recognized tribes in Arizona.

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“From the streets to the seats, they get a little taste of the Rez,” said Phoenix Suns Director of Live Entertainment Shawn Martinez in an interview with Native News Online. “We wanted to give hope to Native American youth, not only in Arizona but across the country.”

Not only were all of Arizona’s Tribes recognized at each game, but they had a voice in the programming. 

“We listened to all of the leaders in the community,” Martinez said. “...It was a labor of love, and it came straight from the heart of the people.” 

ORIGNATIVE was initially pitched by the Suns’ Senior Director of Marketing, Graham Wincott. It was brought to life through collaboration with Nike N7 and various Arizona tribes and prominent Native organizations — such as the Gia River Indian Community, United National Indian Tribal Youth Phoenix Indian Center, the Native American Basketball Invitation and more.

The ORIGINATIV April 4 finale also made history by being the first sports game broadcast in two Indigenous languages: Apache and Diné. The game was aired by tribal radio stations KWKM, based on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, and KTNN, the official radio station of the Navajo Nation.

“I think our Phoenix Suns organization and players really respected what was featured,” Navajo Sportscaster L.A. Williams told Native News Online. “You could see the vibes of how much it meant to them. Feeling the floor, the jerseys they were wearing, looking around and seeing all of the Native American people from not only Arizona but nationwide to see the closeout of the ORIGINATIV.”

Williams has more than 30 years of sportscasting in the Navajo/Dine language. Last season, Williams broadcasted the Suns’ playoffs games for the first time.

Martinez says ORIGINATIV has caught the attention of other NBA teams, noting that the Charlotte Hornets attended the final game to see it for themselves.

 There may be more tribal recognition on the horizon for the NBA — potentially a celebration of Native American Heritage Month in which all players would potentially wear a shooting shirt that features Native American designs during November, Martinez said.

 “Hopefully, that can happen,” Martinez said. “But it’s a start of what can happen.”

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About The Author
Author: Darren ThompsonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a staff reporter for Native News Online who is based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.