Pope Francis meets with NBA players to discuss their social justice efforts

Several NBA players met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Monday to discuss their efforts to address social and economic injustice, the National Basketball Players’ Association (NBPA) said in a release. 

After the Vatican reached out to the players’ union to learn about their work for social change, a delegation that included Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, Houston Rockets wing Sterling Brown and free agents Anthony Tolliver, Marco Belinelli and Kyle Korver traveled to meet the pope. 

After the meeting in the papal library of the Apostolic Palace, Tolliver called it an “incredible experience.”

“With the Pope’s support and blessing, we are excited to head into this next season reinvigorated to keep pushing for change and bringing our communities together,” he said in a statement released by the NBPA. 

Korver, a 17-year NBA veteran who wrote a powerful essay about racism and white privilege last year, echoed Tolliver’s sentiment after meeting with the pope. 

 “We are extremely honored to have had this opportunity to come to the Vatican and share our experiences with Pope Francis,” Korver said. “His openness and eagerness to discuss these issues was inspiring and a reminder that our work has had a global impact and must continue moving forward.”

Honored and Inspired. Thank you, @Pontifex.

“Today’s meeting validates the power of our Players’ voices. That one of the most influential leaders in the world sought to have a conversation with them demonstrates the influence of their platforms.” – @MRobertsNBPA pic.twitter.com/agvQ4MzDGZ

NBPA executive director Michele Roberts, who also attended the meeting, said their time with the pope “validates the power of our players’ voices.” 

“That one of the most influential leaders in the world sought to have a conversation with them demonstrates the influence of their platforms,” she said. “I remain inspired by our players’ continued commitment to serve and support our community.”

Images from the meeting showed Pope Francis and the players sitting and standing next to each other, but not wearing masks. The players union tweeted that “players and NBPA staff members were required to undergo COVID-19 testing before meeting with Pope Francis.”

The gathering comes ahead of the December 1 release of Francis’ new book, “Let Us Dream: The Path to A Better Future” (published by Simon & Schuster, a division of ViacomCBS). In it, Francis supports demands for racial justice in the wake of the police-custody death of George Floyd, a Black man.  

Last season, NBA and WNBA players wore jerseys with social justice messages and used their voices to call out racial inequality after several police shootings and killings of Black people. Following the Jacob Blake shooting in Wisconsin, Bucks players walked out during a playoff game and inspired athletes and teams across other sports to also boycott games. 

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