NBA Players Meet With Pope Francis to Discuss Social Justice Work


The NBA's social justice work has caught the attention of Pope Francis.

Five NBA players and representatives from the National Basketball Players Association met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Monday morning. The group included players Kyle Korver, Sterling Brown, Anthony Tolliver, Marco Belinelli and Jonathan Isaac, who is an ordained minister, as well as NBPA executive director Michele Roberts.

"We are extremely honored to have had this opportunity to come to the Vatican and share our experiences with Pope Francis," Korver said in a statement released by 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."

The meeting was held at the papal library of the Apostolic Palace and "provided an opportunity for the players to discuss their individual and collective efforts addressing social and economic injustice and inequality occurring in their communities." 

Union officials told ESPN that an intermediary for Pope Francis contacted the players' association last week and said the Pope wanted to learn more about players' work with social justice issues and economic inequality, including their plans to address these in the future. The union agreed to the meeting and scheduled an overnight flight for Sunday. The group will return to the U.S. on Tuesday morning.

While in the NBA's bubble in Orlando, players used their platform to address racial inequality, police brutality and other issues. Most players kneeled during the national anthem before games, while some chose to wear social justice messages on the backs of their jerseys. 

In October, the Bucks elected to sit out Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Magic to protest the police shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. Both Korver and Brown played for the Bucks last season. Milwaukee's decision led to other sports taking notice, and WNBA, MLB and NHL teams also elected to postpone games.

"This meeting validates the power of our Players' voices," Roberts said in a statement. "That one of the most influential leaders in the world sought to have a conversation with them demonstrates the influence of their platforms. I remain inspired by our Players' continued commitment to serve and support our community."