NBA gamers, Pope meet to speak about social justice


In an unprecedented meeting this morning, a delegation of five NBA players and several representatives from the National Basketball Players Association are in the Vatican to discuss with Pope Francis their work on social justice issues.

A mediator for Pope Francis reached out to the players' association last week and indicated that the Pope would like to know more about how players recently raised awareness of pressing issues of social justice and economic inequality – and what they have planned for the future , union representatives told ESPN. The union agreed and quickly planned a Sunday night flight to hold their private meeting with the Pope, which began Monday morning at 11:45 a.m. local time in the Vatican. As the training camp was due to open on December 1st, players and union representatives had to stop their trip now.

The delegation includes Kyle Korver and Sterling Brown; Jonathan Isaac of Orlando Magic; Anthony Tolliver, the union's secretary and treasurer; Marco Belinelli; and Michele Roberts, executive director of the players' union.

The meeting is expected to last an hour in the papal library of the Apostolic Palace. Afterwards, the players and union representatives will tour St. Peter's Square.

The players and the union, in partnership with the NBA league office, used their stage as the 2020 NBA season restarted in Orlando to focus on police brutality, racial injustice and other issues. Most players chose various social justice-related messages – including "Say Their Names," "Equality" and "Enough" – to place over their numbers on the back of their shirts. The league and union agreed to paint "Black Lives Matter" along a sideline. Almost every player and coach knelt while playing the national anthem before the games.

Brown and Korver were both playing for the Milwaukee Bucks at the time, which decided to suspend a postseason game against the Orlando Magic after police shot and killed Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old black man, in Kenosha, Wisc. The spontaneous strike of the bucks sparked a wave of such actions in various sports.

Brown, who agreed to join the Houston Rockets over the weekend, and George Hill, now a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, were the first members of the Bucks to decide they wouldn't play the game. Brown is the victim of a high profile case of police brutality. In early 2018, eight Milwaukee police surrounded Brown outside a walgreen to investigate a possible parking violation. One forced Brown to the ground. Another used a taser on him. Earlier this month Brown settled a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Milwaukee and its law enforcement agency after the defendants agreed to pay $ 750,000.

Isaac, an ordained minister, was one of the few players and coaches to stand for the national anthem during the NBA restart in Orlando.

The meeting was kept very quiet. The players plan to discuss it with the media afterwards. You will return to the US on Tuesday morning.


Melinda Martin