Navajo broadcaster calls Suns playoff games for first time since 1993 NBA Finals

When L.A. Williams broadcasts Suns playoff games in downtown Phoenix for the largest Native American community in the U.S., the Navajo Nation, is listening.
Published: Jun. 1, 2022 at 10:35 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Community can take any number of forms. It can be seen. It can be felt. It can be heard.

When L.A. Williams broadcasts Suns playoff games in downtown Phoenix, for KTNN radio, some 300 miles away, the largest Native American community in the United States, the Navajo Nation, is listening.

“People that live way out in the sheep camps, and grandma and grandpa way out on the mesas and everyplace else, they can sit there and listen to L.A. bring the action them,” says Clinton Jim, who’s known Williams for a long time.

Melix Cowboy, a local basketball coach says, “It’s the only source of entertainment that we have on the reservation. You know, everybody’s not equipped with TVs or satellites. There’s still radios inside the houses.”

Eric Nelson, another local basketball coach, says, “She makes you feel like you’re there and when she describes the game in Navajo, there’s a different meaning. It means much more. It’s pretty cool.”

Williams first called Suns play-by-play in the Navajo language in 1993, following the team to the NBA Finals.

Shawn Martinez, the Senior Director of Live Presentation for the Suns, who played basketball at Fort Lewis College at the same time Williams was playing there, remembers, “being able to hear the radio broadcast in Navajo with L.A. was just something that you could only dream of on the reservation, being able to hear it in our native tongue.”

Williams, asked if she knew of anyone who had broadcasted professional sports in a native language like that before, says “It’s never been done. That was the first year it happened, 29 years ago in 1993.”

Now, for the first time in 29 years, this pioneer is back, thanks to a major assist from her friend Martinez, who also grew up on the Navajo Nation.

“Basketball is life on the reservation,” says Martinez.

“We love basketball on the Navajo Nation,” says Williams.

Williams is bringing the highest level of the sport to her people, in their language, which is considered one of the most complicated to learn.

“Some of the sounds are pretty hard to make,” says Martinez.

There is no literal translation, like English to Spanish.

“You say what you see,” says Jim. “That’s what it is.”

Williams says, “It’s almost like storytelling, because it is so descriptive.”

She uses special nicknames for Suns players. Chris Paul is Naat’áanii, which means leader.

“When L.A. speaks it, there’s a lot of passion and a lot of love and respect,” says Nelson.

This is the language the legendary Navajo code talkers used to send secret communications during World War II. In Window Rock, the capital of the Navajo Nation, a 12-foot statue honors those American heroes.

“You have that sense of pride that this language actually won the war,” says Cowboy.

Jim says, “You know, they were our heroes. We grew up around them. I actually joined the Marine Corps because of them.

Now, Williams uses that same sacred language to make everyone back home see, feel and hear.

“Poetry in motion,” is how Martinez describes it. “She just paints the picture for everybody back home and they can imagine what’s happening.”

Williams says she’s, “telling grandma, you know, this is what happened. He had that shot, no-look pass inside, slam dunk, back down on the other end.”

She’s bringing a community together, around a favorite sport, a radio, and history.

“The language is not going anywhere,” says Williams.

“I feel like we still have a story to tell and we’re still here,” says Martinez.