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The story behind SDSUs turquoise uniforms

Time:2016-11-28 14:13Shoes websites Click:

Nike San Diego State basketball SDSU Aztecs Savannah State Tigers Native American Heritage Month

San Diego State’s basketball team will wear turquoise uniforms Monday night against Savannah State, just as it has for a November game in each of the last two seasons.

The hope is eventually fans won’t lean over to the person sitting next to them and ask why.

“We hope people realize it’s not just kind of a minor thing,” SDSU professor David Kamper said. “It’s not just another promotional event.”

Kamper is the chair of SDSU’s Indian Studies department, the oldest in the nation, and the man behind what has become an annual game at Viejas Arena in celebration of Native American Heritage Month. In many respects, it’s how the academic and athletic sides of a university, so often polarized, are supposed to work – the latter incorporating educational awareness of the former.

The customized uniforms are part of the Nike N7 project, created in 2009, the company says, “to use sport for social change in Native and Aboriginal communities throughout North America.” The first team to wear the turquoise was Oregon State in 2010, when the Beavers had Joe Burton, a 6-foot-7, 288-pound forward who was born on the Soboba reservation and starred at West Valley High in Hemet.

Kamper knew the founder of Nike N7 and the director of Temecula-based Inter Tribal Sports, which promotes health and wellness in Native American communities. SDSU athletics is sponsored by Nike. The campus sits on Kumeyaay land. The turquoise is symbolic of harmony and friendship in Native American culture.

No brainer.                                                                                      

“We said, ‘There’s no reason this shouldn’t be done here,’” Kamper said. “We’re trying to get the non-native community to understand and appreciate more what’s going on around them, that they are on Kumeyaay land, that the tribe that sponsors the arena is more than just a casino.

“It also allows the Native American community to see the team play in turquoise jerseys and feel valued.”

SDSU was the first California school to wear them. In all, eight other men’s teams will this month, including New Mexico, Nevada and Gonzaga. The jerseys from Monday night will be auctioned to benefit the Native American Student Alliance at SDSU and Inter Tribal Sports programs across Southern California.

That the sport is basketball is no coincidence.

“Rez ball,” as it’s called, is a borderline obsession in many Native American communities and has been for the better part of a century. No sport has captivated or united them more. Seasonal celebrations regularly include a basketball tournament, and high school games draw huge crowds in some Southwestern locales.

SDSU’s players conducted a clinic at a Pechanga rec center last year. The Lakers annually hold a preseason practice there.

“An integral part of the fabric of society, a really important part of contemporary Native American life,” said Kamper, who is writing a book about the role of basketball, skateboarding and golf in Indian country. “They often play on the same court or same gyms where pow wows are held. Basketball has not replaced the pow wow, but there are a lot of overlaps.

“It’s a way to connect socially. One woman from Santa Isabel told me: ‘If it wasn’t for basketball, we’d only see each other at funerals.’ She was being hyperbolic, but there’s some truth to it.”

SDSU carves off a couple hundred seats from the student allotment in Viejas Arena to sell at a discounted rate to the local Native American community. There are pregame and halftime festivities. The Aztecs players wear special turquoise-themed versions of Nike shoes.

“Before each season, we talk about being a positive influence on our community and what we can be involved in,” coach Steve Fisher said. “We’re privileged to be one of teams wearing these (turquoise) uniforms.

“I think it’s important to understand the community you’re living in.”

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Aztecs vs. Savannah State

Today: 7 p.m. at Viejas Arena

On the air: No TV; 1090-AM

Records: SDSU 3-1, Savannah State 2-5

Series history: First meeting.

Aztecs update: This is their first game in a week. The players got three days off for Thanksgiving, since they’ll be playing over Christmas at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. The time off, however, has helped heal one of the nation’s most injured teams. Forwards Malik Pope and Max Hoetzel both made their season debuts in the 77-65 win against Cal last Monday, combining for 25 points and 12 rebounds in 40 minutes despite barely practicing over the previous month. Matt Shrigley and Valentine Izundu also got minutes against the Bears, meaning the Aztecs had four players they didn’t from the previous game. “We’re getting healthier,” said Coach Steve Fisher, whose team was down to five scholarship players on Nov. 16. “We feel better about where we are physically.” Up next is maybe the toughest stretch of the season: at Loyola of Chicago, at Grand Canyon in Phoenix and home against the Pac-12’s Arizona State.

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