Kalle Benallie
Indian Country Today

Growing up, Jacelle Ramon-Sauberan, Tohono O’odham, looks back as the Phoenix Suns being an integral part of her childhood.

She often received Phoenix Suns apparel as gifts for birthdays and Christmas. And vividly remembers receiving a jacket that she now has given to her two-year-old daughter.

“It was like the greatest gift ever. I took extra care of that jacket and that’s why I have it until this day,” she said.

She’s far from the only one celebrating Phoenix’s success.

Native fans, even tribal leaders in Arizona, have come out to support the Phoenix Suns as the team battles the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals. The first to win four games takes the championship, which the Suns have never won and the Bucks haven’t won since 1971.

The series shifts to the Fiserv Forum on Sunday in Milwaukee for game 3 and 4. If necessary, game 5 is in Phoenix.

Ramon-Sauberan thinks the timing is perfect now considering what Arizona has gone through during the pandemic.

“It’s been so fun and exciting to be watching the game throughout the playoffs, and then here we are in the Finals and they’ve taken game one,” Ramon-Sauberan said.

During the playoffs, she and her mom quickly ordered matching Native designed Suns t-shirts from Can’t Fail Designs, a family owned business from the Pueblo of Acoma and the Navajo Nation. 

Ramon-Sauberan said she’s thinking of recreating the photo of her with her daughter. (Photo courtesy of Jacelle Ramon-Sauberan)
Recent photo of Jacelle with the Can’t Fail Designs suns t-shirt. (Photo courtesy of Jacelle Ramon-Sauberan)

She thinks the Suns are going to take the championship title and notices the community support for the team all over her social media.

“There’s definitely ties and people from the Tohono O’odham Nation cheering on the Phoenix Suns,” she said.

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Tasha Silverhorn, Salt River Indian Community, is also a big fan. She wore a purple wig at the Suns’ airport celebration after beating the Los Angeles Clippers in June.

She’s currently battling breast cancer and said the celebration was crazy with thousands of fans, including seeing others from Salt River and her relatives out amongst the crowd.

She comes from a long line of Suns fans in her family and remembers them having watch parties in the 90s. Phoenix hasn’t had this much success since being led by Charles Barkley in the mid-90s.

Tasha’s family at game one of the Phoenix Suns against the Los Angeles Clippers on Father’s Day. (Photo courtesy of Tasha Silverhorn)

And some in her Salt River Indian Community have been anticipating the season's success early on. Salt River sits on the east side of the Phoenix Valley.

“I’ve seen a house over here with the flags out in the beginning of the series. They were ready to go, they had some big Suns flags,” she said.

(Related: ‘Ojibwe coach centers the Phoenix Suns’)

Although it appears the Suns have a dedicated fandom, there are Natives supporting the Bucks. In 2018, the Menominee Indian tribe of Wisconsin’s tribal enterprise supplied the new arena’s hard maple floor.

But mass fandom looks to be in Phoenix’s favor, at least on social media.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez posted about the Suns’ recent victory.

Chairman Terry Rambler of the San Carlos Apache, east of Phoenix, has also been actively posting about the Phoenix Suns and wore a Suns t-shirt during a meeting.

Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis has been a fan all his life and remembers his father Rod Lewis would take him to the Suns games back when they played at the "The Madhouse on McDowell.”

He even went to game six of the Suns’ first NBA Finals appearance in 1976 against the Boston Celtics.

“I’ve been just a long-time, sometimes long-suffering, but always a loyal fan,” Lewis said.

He noted the strong Native American fan community for the Phoenix Suns. Especially tribes like the Tohono O’odham and Gila River who are close to the Valley and the area being their historic lands.

“Almost everyone I know at Gila River has some sort of Suns jersey, or shirt or hat. I know I am,” Lewis said.

Gila River gaming, hotels and casinos have a sponsorship with the Suns. Lewis said “It adds to the excitement, definitely, that we’re actually a supporter of the Suns organization.”

Lewis also met First Lady Jill Biden and Doug Emhoff in Phoenix recently while wearing high-top orange Nikes with his suit.

Pictured: Arizona tribal leaders with U.S. Second Gentleman
Douglas Emhoff and U.S. First Lady Jill Biden at Isaac Middle
School in Phoenix, Arizona on June 30, 2021.

“She got a big kick out of that, and I think she was aware,” he said about Biden’s reaction.

“I’m just really proud to see the support of tribes at the games, and outside and on social media as well,” Lewis said. 

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