Five NBA players go to Vatican to meet with Pope on social justice work

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Few things in life are harder to get than an audience with the Pope.

However, Pope Francis reached out and five NBA players — representing the National Basketball Players’ Association — flew to the Vatican to meet with the Pope about their work on social justice in the United States, a story first reported by Zach Lowe of ESPN.

An intermediary for Pope Francis reached out to the players association last week indicating the Pope wanted to learn more about how players had recently brought attention to pressing social justice issues and economic inequality — and what they planned for the future, union officials told ESPN. The union agreed and quickly scheduled an overnight flight Sunday to make their private meeting with the Pope…

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

Pope Francis has been more public and focused on social justice issues than previous pontiffs.  That the Pope reached out to NBA players about their work shows both the NBA game’s worldwide popularity and the impact the league and players’ focus on social justice messaging had during the NBA’s restart.

The NBA and players union made social justice a focus of the league’s restart in Orlando, with Black Lives Matter written on the court and social justice messaging on the back of players’ jerseys. Beyond that, players used their social media platforms — and interviews with traditional media around games — to discuss social justice issues in the United States.

The NBA players’ efforts were enough to catch the Pope’s attention on the other side of the globe.

It’s an interesting mix of players. Kover and Brown were members of the Milwaukee Bucks team that chose not to play an NBA bubble game in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, in Wisconsin. Brown has been at the forefront of pushing for social justice and police reforms after he was taken to the ground and tased by police in the parking lot of a Wallgreens in Milwaukee over a parking violation. Isaac is an ordained minister.