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Suns mark last ORIGINATIV night of the season with hoop dancers, 'Reservation Dogs' music group

Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

For two years now, the Phoenix Suns have been exposing NBA fans to Native culture during certain home games with themed uniforms as well as Indigenous music and entertainment.  

Sunday was this season’s last heritage game night at the Footprint Center.

As the Suns got ready to take on the Oklahoma City Thunder, Shawn Martinez prepped courtside for the 12th game in the ORIGINATIV series for a sellout crowd of more than 17,000 fans.

Martinez is a Navajo from Fort Defiance. He’s also senior director of live presentation for the Suns and Mercury. 

“You can come into this arena and connect with the tribal roots of what’s happening here — through the visuals — through the music — through the entertainment — through the DJ playing out front,” Martinez said. “You can see all 22 tribal nations’ flags permanently installed in the pavilion. It means so much to me.” 

ORIGINATIV, sponsored by the Gila River Resorts & Casinos, is an NBA theme night series that started last season with a matchup against the Golden State Warriors during Native American Heritage Month in November. 

These games are meant to recognize Arizona’s 22 federally-recognized tribes, not only during November, but throughout the entire season, both on and off the court. 

Martinez helped gain buy-in from Suns stars back in 2022 when the theme nights first began and the franchise released its ‘City Edition’ Native-themed jersey. 

“Their words directly to us were, ‘Thank you for explaining what these jerseys mean,” added Martinez, “what they’re about; what the words for sun mean down the side; the turquoise color, the protection stone; water is life. The whole meaning of the jersey.’” 

The Halluci Nation, a Canadian electronic music group that grew to greater fame after getting featured on the Hulu-streaming series “Reservation Dogs,” headlined a special halftime show along with the Duncan and Sinquah families.

They’re two Valley-based hoop dancing dynasties that took to the court, some forming hoops into ball-like shapes and dribbling around as if they were playing basketball, too.

Suns trailed Thunder from the first period until the fourth, when they finally pulled ahead 91-89 in a much-needed momentum shift. But the Suns ultimately lost that lead by the end of regulation, dropping to the Thunder 118-110.

Despite the loss, Martinez says there’s still so much to celebrate following this season’s last ORIGINATIV game night.

“It’s not just tonight, it’s every day when I go out there representing all 22 tribal nations of Arizona and the 500-plus nations across the nation,” said Martinez. “We want people to know that we’re still here, we’re thriving and it’s not going to stop tonight.”

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Gabriel Pietrorazio is a correspondent who reports on tribal natural resources for KJZZ.