The NBA is extending its influence in social justice reform from the hardwood to the Holy See.
Five players — Kyle Korver, Jonathan Isaac, Marco Belinelli, Sterling Brown and Anthony Tolliver — along with National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts traveled to the Vatican for a meeting Monday with Pope Francis.
The meeting was held in the papal library of the Apostolic Palace and “provided the opportunity for the Players to discuss their individual and collective efforts addressing social and economic injustice and inequality occurring in their communities,” according to a statement released by the NBPA.
“We are extremely honored to have had this opportunity to come to the Vatican and share our experiences with Pope Francis,” Korver said in the release from the NBPA. “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.”
Sherrie Deans, executive director of the NBPA Foundation and Matteo Zuretti, the NBPA’s chief of international relations, also attended the meeting.
Per ESPN, someone from the Vatican reached out to the NBPA last week to schedule the meeting, which had to be scheduled in short order with the 2020-21 season starting in a month.
The meeting was set to last about one hour, with the players and union officials touring St. Peter’s Square afterward. Plans of the meeting had not been leaked until early Monday.
Whether it was peaceful anthem protests, clear messaging on the courts and apparel or coordinating a wildcat strike in the aftermath of the Jacob Blake shooting, the NBA kept the spotlight on social justice and racial inequality throughout the summer from its Disney bubble — enough that the pope wanted to hear more about the efforts.
Brown, who signed with the Houston Rockets recently, settled a lawsuit this month against the Milwaukee Police Department after eight members used excessive force on him outside of a Walgreens in 2018. Isaac, meanwhile, was one of the few players and coaches to stand during the anthem while nearly everybody else knelt.
“Today’s meeting was an incredible experience,” Tolliver said in the statement. “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.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.