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Phoenix’s “Los Suns” jerseys: multi-lingual / multi-laughable

In last night’s Western Conference Semifinal game versus San Antonio, the Phoenix Suns donned an altered version of their orange jerseys. The shirts drop the team’s usual airport-code abbreviation (PHX) and instead read ‘Los Suns.’ Phoenix’s management explained that this change expresses the team’s solidarity with Arizona’s Latino population.

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The jersey swap was timely. Yes, yesterday was Cinco de Mayo, the yearly celebration of Mexican heritage. But the team also intended the name change as a protest against Arizona’s much-derided new anti-immigration law. It’s an interesting political statement in a largely apolitical sports world. (Of course, it could simply represent the team’s attempt to sell a few more jerseys. But let’s give Phoenix the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re genuinely interested in supporting an oppressed minority.) Still, we can ask, how well-executed was the gesture?

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The ‘regular’ alternate jersey for Phoenix. Note the matching fonts.

First problem: font selection. Before the dialect change, both the airport-code emblem and the player numbers were printed in the same blocky, serif font. The jersey looked bold and unified.

But Phoenix’s updated version strips out the font-matched “PHX” and substitutes “Los Suns” in an oddly retro typeface. It seems out of place, with its missing serifs, rounded corners, and black-scored letters. Mismatches abound; it is playful, while the numbers are stern. It is illegible, while the numbers are clear. Apparently, “Los Suns” need to go back to Typography 101. First rule of design? Use consistent, matching fonts. Adding a third, unrelated typeface to an otherwise unified design? For shame!

Leave aside the graphical mis-match, though. There’s a more fundamental problem to address: why “Los Suns”? We’re led to believe that this moniker is somehow more inviting to Spanish-speaking NBA fans.

In actuality, the team’s jerseys already are already language-neutral. After all, PHX could be English, Spanish, or Slovakian, for all we know; it’s a proper abbreviation. Similarly, the players’ names and numbers would look the same, regardless of where the team played. In fact, there’s no actual English on the regular jerseys at all.

Thus, the team faced a dilemma. How could they visibly express their support for Latino fans, if their jerseys were already perfectly accessible to Spanish speakers? The most obvious solution would be to translate the team’s nickname itself into Spanish: “Phoenix Suns” becomes “Phoenix Soles.” But this hardly seems ideal. Sí, Spanish-speaking fans would immediately recognize the word. But English speakers would furrow their brows. “Soles? I’m cheering for the Phoenix Shoe-bottoms?”

Re-branding entirely en Español raises more questions than it answers, so Phoenix went for the next best thing: Spanglish. Does it make sense to pair the Spanish definite article (“Los”) with the English plural (“Suns”)? No, of course not. Is it logical to include the definite article on there at all? Nope. After all, New York’s classic pinstripes don’t read “THE YANKEES.”

But the odd combination does appeal to fanbases of varying ethnicity. After all, Latinos and Anglos alike can join hands, look to the court, and make fun of Phoenix’s lingual faux pas.