Following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin back in August, it became unclear whether the NBA playoffs would be completed.
The Bucks became the first professional sports team to boycott their playoff game in protest. The Lakers, Thunder, Rockets, and Trail Blazers all followed suit. It was unclear if the players would return to the court and it was not until former United States President Barack Obama stepped in that progress was made.
Speaking on LeBron James‘ HBO show “The Shop,” the 44th president in U.S. history detailed the phone in which he pushed for players to urge the NBA to take a proactive effort in social justice issues, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.
“I think it was close to midnight when Chris (Paul), CP, calls with LeBron, Carmelo (Anthony), I think Russ Westbrook was on the phone, and the conversation we had was along the lines LeBron spoke about,” Obama said. “Protest is useful in terms of raising awareness, but given the power that the NBA players had, my suggestion was that we use that platform to see if you can start asking for some specifics. This isn’t something that’s just a one-off. That’s sadly what we’ve seen, as it happens again and again.
“So, one of the suggestions I had for the players was: Is it possible for you guys to set up an office that allows you, on an ongoing basis, to take best practices that are going to start making incidents like [Blake] less likely?”
James, who ended up capturing his fourth career NBA championship and Finals MVP after play resumed, noted that he and the rest of the players within the campus were prepared to leave.
“There was a time where we were ready to leave too — the Lakers. Myself included, we were ready to leave,” James said. “And we were trying to figure out if we leave or if we stay, what is our plan, what is our call for action? And I’m lucky enough to have a friend, the 44th President, that allowed me and allowed CP and allowed us to get on the phone with him and get guidance.”
Within days, the NBA and NBPA announced the creation of a social justice coalition that would help people access voting, increase civic engagement, and advocate for reforms that could help prevent shootings, such as the Blake tragedy.