Phoenix Suns rookie Alex Len takes court with '#PrayForUkraine' message on his shoes

A pair of ankle surgeries and the persistent injuries that followed prevented Alex Len from hitting the ground running in his first NBA season. The surprising success of the Phoenix Suns — sparked in part by guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe making beautiful music in concert with bigs Channing Frye, Miles Plumlee, and twins Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris — has made it difficult for the 20-year-old 7-footer to crack first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek's rotation. When Len has found the floor of late, though, he's been supplementing his attempt to make a statement with his play by making one with his footwear:

Over the past couple of weeks, Len — whom Phoenix selected out of Maryland with the fifth overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft — has taken to writing "#PrayForUkraine" on his Nike Hyperdunk 2013s, an understated symbol of solidarity with those suffering amid the roiling chaos in the Ukraine, where Len was born in June 1993.

Political unrest in Ukraine has spanned several months, stemming from President Viktor Yanukovych's government deciding in November 2013 to reject an accord that would have strengthened ties between the Ukraine and the European Union in favor of establishing stronger ties with Russia. Thousands of Ukrainians, viewing this development as a step away from progress that would draw the nation closer to its Soviet past, flocked to the capital city of Kiev to protest.

The clashes between police and protestors reached a fever pitch a couple of weeks ago, as a violent Feb. 18 conflict sparked a brutal battle in which at least 77 people died in less than 48 hours. Ukraine's parliament voted to oust Yanukovych on Feb. 22; a warrant for his arrest was issued two days later.

Multiple Western nations recognized the new regime, but some in the nation prefer Russian rule to the new national power. Majority Russian Crimea's parliament has declared its intention to join Russia. The new Ukrainian government mobilized for war on Sunday to protect its national sovereignty. The U.S. is considering a broad range of sanctions against Russia for its intervention. Things are bad, and could well get way worse before they get better.

And watching all this unfold from more than 6,000 miles away is Len, a 20-year-old kid who doesn't really know what to make of his homeland burning, but can't put it out of his mind, so he puts it on his shoes. From Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic:

“If you watch American news, they say one thing. If you watch Ukrainian news, they say another thing. In my home, I have a Russian channel and they say a totally different thing. It’s politics, so I don’t know what’s really going on. I pray for Ukraine. I want peace.”

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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