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Coming home: Shawn Martinez has returned to his Navajo roots while setting a new standard for entertainment in the NBA and WNBA

Shawn Martinez

Editor’s note: This story was posted on Nov. 18, one day before the Phoenix Suns hosted Native American Recognition Night


Its 3 p.m., four hours before 16,000 fans file into Footprint Center for a Phoenix Suns playoff game.

Senior Director of Live Presentation Shawn Martinez is going through his final preparations before show time. It may be another weekday night in downtown Phoenix, but for Martinez it’s another night living out his lifelong dream.

“Growing up, the dream was always to play in the NBA,” he said.

Born and raised on the Navajo Reservation in the farthest corner of northeast Arizona, Martinez always aspired to make it to basketball’s biggest stage.

“Basketball on the reservation is king. Basketball was always the number one priority,” said Martinez. “Basketball brings the community together.

“Every time we’d play, the gym was packed,” he said. “Family, friends, aunts, uncles – everybody was there. It brought us all together and basketball did that for all of us.”

Martinez grew up across three different towns on the reservation – Chinle, Fort Defiance and Window Rock.

He said the game of basketball was vital to his upbringing and to the community he calls home.

The youngest of four brothers, Martinez recalled having to work a little harder to keep up with them on the court. His daily practices consumed his free time and became the center of his life, constantly working to sharpen his game.

“Watching them play and dreaming about making it to the NBA was always there,” Martinez said. “Basketball was the steady thing. It was the sport I loved the most.”

His dream was fortified on occasional family trips to Phoenix to catch Suns games at the iconic Madhouse on McDowell, cheering on Alvan Adams, Paul Westphal and other legendary NBA stars of the era.

After hooping through high school and playing at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, as a walk-on, Martinez could start to see the end of his competitive playing days. But he was still determined to continue his journey into the NBA, even if it meant taking a different route.

Martinez’s passion for music led him to pursue a career as a DJ. He caught the eyes and ears of professionals in the NBA and MLS in the Denver market. He worked his way up from the coordinator level of game presentation to the director for NBA and MLS leagues in the area.

For Martinez, his love of music and skill of hyping a crowd translated perfectly into live sports and eventually lead him to an epic Arizona homecoming.

After time grooming his talent with the Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons, Martinez joined Suns Legacy Partners, LLC in 2020 as senior director of live presentation.

Timing could not have been better. Paired with a resurgence in Phoenix basketball with both the Suns and Mercury, Martinez and his team have helped turn Footprint Center into the most electric home crowd atmosphere in the NBA.

“I’m able to read a crowd when I DJ and it ties into when you’re directing a game,” Martinez said. “You are trying to create energy and make that person in the corner dance.

“Here in Phoenix, we are always trying to push the right buttons to get the crowd involved,” he said. “While we cannot control what is happening on the court, we get to control the atmosphere. And as a director or a DJ, I’m always asking myself how to bring this party to life.”

Martinez may not be crossing up defenders on the court anymore, but he is responsible for hyping players and fans with his choreography to make life unpleasant for visiting teams.

“While I couldn’t play basketball anymore, I found a different way in,” Martinez said. “I have found my seat at center court making an impact on the game my own way.

“From animation to audio to video and entertainers, the team and I are doing everything we can do to enhance the fan experience,” he said, “and that’s how I get to be a part of the NBA.”

Through his travels and success, Martinez has never forgotten his Navajo roots.

“I cried a lot when I got the job because I was able to come home, and have an impact on not only my family, but for the kids growing up here on the reservations who can see someone like me who grew up there, and make it to this point in the NBA,” Martinez said.

“I am here to help any of those kids who want to talk and I’ll happily teach and mentor them,” he said, “I want to share my story and be a positive role model.”

Martinez played a central role in planning the Native American Heritage Night supported by APS, on Friday, Nov. 19.

The night was filled with indigenous-themed entertainment beginning with a pregame performance of traditional hoop dancing by Tony Duncan Productions.

Fans entering the arena were greeted by the sounds of DJ Neon N8TVS of Navajo and San Carlos Apache descent in the Footprint Center pavilion and DJ Tomahawk Bang of Tohono O’odham descent located in the Dos Equis Beer Garden.

The national anthem was performed by Phoenix vocalist Kahara Hodges in her native Diné language (Navajo meaning, “The People”).

The celebration continued at halftime with a performance of powwow style dancing with a hip-hop influence by renowned troupe Indigenous Enterprise, recently featured in the New York Times.

In collaboration with local indigenous artist Breeze who is of Tohono O’odham descent, the first 5,000 fans in attendance received a Phoenix Suns T-shirt dedicated to Native communities across the Valley.

“It’s important for them to know they have one of their own in a position to help tell our story and remind people that we are still here,” Martinez said.


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