When Darius Rucker canceled plans to sing the national anthem ahead of Game 3 of the NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs asked Sebastien De La Cruz to do the honors. De La Cruz, an 11-year-old Mexican-American, is a San Antonio resident who appeared as a singer on America’s Got Talent last year, and he didn’t disappoint.
That the Spurs chose a Latino boy in a mariachi suit quickly became a controversy, with social media users asking why an “illegal alien” was singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and why he was “dressed like such a little Mexican.” One Twitter user posited that “They prolly made this Mexican sing to stay in America.”
De La Cruz was quick to respond , as was San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who wrote in a Facebook message that De La Cruz “represent[s] the best of our nation’s future!” Spurs coach Greg Popovich blasted the critics as “idiots” who were for some reason “proud of their ignorance.” But the Spurs organization itself had the best response, because it asked De La Cruz to come back and sing the national anthem again before Game 4 Thursday night. And he killed it:
It’s great that the Spurs didn’t back down in the face of criticism, but it shouldn’t be shocking. San Antonio is 63 percent Latino, according to the Census Bureau, so the organization is used to embracing its diverse population. And if any franchise understands the benefits of immigration, it’s the Spurs: eight of their 15 players are foreign-born, coming from places like Argentina, Brazil, Australia, and France.
Still, it would have been easy to ignore the controversy and the critics who don’t understand that people who aren’t white and male are Americans too (represented by the flag and everything!), especially at a time when immigration reform is so prominently featured in the news. But the Spurs didn’t, because doing so wouldn’t have just alienated an 11-year-old who can sing an amazing rendition of his nation’s anthem but also the community they call home. The Spurs and the NBA do a significant amount of outreach to America’s growing Latino population. Sometimes, though, the best outreach (and the best business decision) comes from showing that community that you aren’t scared to stand up for their right to be Americans too.