Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2023 year in review.
The email popped into Miguel Godoy’s inbox two years ago. It invited him, Godoy recalled, to be part of a “lucrative project.”
“It piqued my interest as soon as I read that word,” said Godoy, an instructor in Arizona State University’s School of Art. “But I also get a lot of scams so, honestly, I didn’t believe it.”
Still, the “lucrative project part” was tempting. So, Godoy called the phone number included in the email.
That led to a conversation, an invitation and, this season, the Phoenix Suns wearing the NBA City Edition uniforms Godoy designed.
The uniforms, which the Suns are wearing 13 times in the 2023–24 season, celebrate the Valley’s Mexican American culture with an "El Valle" wordmark on the front of the jersey and, on the side panels, decorative pinstriping designed to embody the hand-painted pinstripes of a lowrider.
For Godoy, a muralist whose works have been exhibited around the Valley the past five years, the opportunity to design the El Valle uniforms wasn’t just a unique business prospect — “This was all new. That was the exciting part for me,” he said — a chance to proudly showcase his Chicano heritage and the lessons his grandfather taught him.
“Let me share something with you,” Godoy said as he sat in the studio of his Chandler home. “I was harvesting corn with my grandfather on his ranch in Southern California before he died. He had a bunch of maize corn, so I went one week to help him harvest.
“It was so much corn; it was just me and him, and we were bagging it up, and it was so much work. So I asked him, ‘Grandfather, why are we doing all this? Are you going to sell this? Are you going to make money off of this?’
“And his response in Spanish was, ‘No, grandson, this is for our people. This is for our family.’
"That really sums up how I feel about this project. It wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about the money. It was really about doing this for our people. It was personal.”
First things first, though. Godoy had to be selected for the job. The Suns had a list of artists they were considering but were persuaded by the murals Godoy had up throughout the city and the fact that he’s a local artist.
Once he was chosen, Godoy’s mission was two-fold: Honor the Chicano heritage and give the Suns what they wanted. He started with broad strokes.
“What does it mean to be bi-cultural? What does it mean to be Mexican American?” Godoy said. “That’s a very layered question. I have so many ways to answer it. We all do. As an artist, the floodgates were open.”
As he considered various ideas and designs — “We probably went through five or six iterations,” he said — he thought of his father, Ramon, an artist himself who grew up in the lowrider culture in Southern California and would draw pseudo tattoos on his children with a ballpoint pen.
“When I thought about our art and what aesthetic we’ve created on our own, I really started to lean on my history and my background,” Godoy said. “And with that came the idea of the lowrider culture. That was the seed.”
Ramon, who served in the Army, shared stories with his son about the lowriders he and his brothers would get painted at a local auto store. Godoy and his older brother, Jesus Rodriguez, would eventually start building lowrider bikes and even had a lowrider bike club called “Drastic Measures Bike Club.”
His inspiration settled, Godoy started going to car shows around the Valley to get ideas on how the lowrider culture could be implemented into an NBA uniform. What stood out to him immediately was the pin striping and colorful paint jobs on the cars.
He took the uniform schematic provided to him by Nike, flipped it sideways and almost immediately envisioned the lowrider pinstriping on the side of the jersey and shorts.
It took Godoy nearly five months to come up with the finished product. Then, he had to wait for more than a year for the uniforms to be unveiled.
“I was just kind of sitting on it and wondering what the response would be like,” Godoy said. “It’s been amazing. I never would have imagined any of it.”
Godoy is appreciative of the praise, but what’s meant the most to him were two text messages he received. One was from his father, who wrote, “I’m so proud of you. You’re really doing this for the family.” The other was from his nephew, a tattoo artist who Godoy taught how to breakdance when they were living in San Diego. In the text, the nephew said, “I’m so proud of you. You really inspire me, and you always have.”
The messages told Godoy exactly what he wanted to hear — that he had done the Chicano culture proud.
“It’s really about representation,” he said. "It’s about elevating voices that are often not heard. To get personal messages of how it clicked, saying I really represented our city and culture — that’s the biggest compliment for me.”
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