Pope Francis met five members of the NBA's newly formed National Basketball Social Justice Coalition at the Vatican on Monday to discuss gender equality issues.
Marco Belinelli of San Antonio Spurs, Sterling Brown of Milwaukee Bucks, Jonathan Isaac of Orlando Magic, Kyle Korver of Milwaukee Bucks and Anthony Tolliver of Memphis Grizzlies were joined by Michele Roberts, executive director of the NBA players' union, and two other union leaders. Sherrie Deans and Matteo Zuretti.
"They are masters," Pope Francis told the players, as quoted by ESPN. "But even if you set the example of teamwork, you have become a role model who sets a good example of teamwork, but always remains humble … and preserves your own humanity."
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Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac shares a jersey and other keepsakes with Pope Francis
Pope Francis (in white) meets a delegation of five NBA players in the Vatican on November 23, including Jonathan Isaac (far right) and Sterling Brown (second from right), as well as officials from the National Basketball Players Association
Pope Francis receives a gold basketball from Andrew Tolliver, the Memphis Grizzlies striker
Pope Francis (in white) backed calls for social justice after police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25
Orlando Magic strikers Jonathan Isaac (left) and Milwaukee's Sterling Brown at the Vatican
Michele Roberts (left on microphone), NBPA Executive Director, speaks to Pope Francis
Korver initially thought the invitation to the Vatican was a prank, he told the New York Times.
"I thought I had a scam email," Korver said. I immediately called (NBPA executive director) Michele (Roberts). I said, "Is this real?" She said, "Yes, that's it and would you like to come in two days?" That came together very quickly. & # 39;
The meeting lasted about 30 minutes, according to the Times.
"I'm still not even sure this really happened," said Roberts.
The players responded to the meeting in an NBPA press release.
"We are very honored to have had this opportunity to come to the Vatican and share our experience with Pope Francis," said Korver. "His openness and eagerness to discuss these issues were inspiring and a reminder that our work has had a global impact and needs to move forward."
Sterling Brown shares some literature on the NBA's Social Justice Coalition with Pope Francis
The union said the players spoke about their "individual and collective efforts to combat social and economic injustice and inequality in their communities".
The audience came days before a book came out in which Pope Francis endorsed demands for racial justice, particularly the measures taken after the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd, a black man who died in May. A Minneapolis police officer held a knee against his neck for minutes while Floyd said he couldn't breathe and pleaded for his life.
Roberts said Pope Francis sought the meeting with the players and it "demonstrates the influence of their platforms". The demand for social and racial justice has been paramount among players, especially in recent months, including following the deaths of Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
"This meeting confirms the power of our players' votes," said Roberts. “That one of the most influential leaders in the world wanted to have a conversation with them shows the influence of their platforms. I continue to be inspired by our players' continued commitment to serve and support our community.
All players and NBPA staff were tested for COVID-19 prior to meeting Pope Francis
Orlando Magic striker Jonathan Isaac (center), one of the few players to stand for the national anthem after the police murder of George Floyd, was at the Vatican on Monday to discuss social justice issues with Pope Francis
After the NBA resumed their 22-team season at Disney World after a four-month COVID-19 hiatus, many league players protested racism and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem before games. To bring the point home, the players also wore warm-up shirts that read “Black Lives Matter” and had social justice messages printed on the back of their shirts.
One exception was Isaac, who defended his decision in August before sustaining a knee injury that is expected to keep him out of the upcoming 2020-21 season.
Pope Francis supports demands for racial justice following the police murder of George Floyd. Francis slammed COVID-19 skeptics and media outlets spreading their conspiracies in a new book written during the Vatican's coronavirus lockdown. In "Let Us Dream" Francis also criticizes populist politicians who hold rallies in a way reminiscent of the 1930s and the hypocrisy of "rigid" conservative Catholics who support them
"I believe black lives play a role," he said afterwards, as quoted by Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News. "Kneeling in a Black Lives Matter T-shirt doesn't go hand in hand with supporting black life."
The Coalition for Social Justice was formed to lead efforts to promote equality. It remains unclear what role the coalition will play in the upcoming season, which begins December 22nd, but according to Tolliver, the group awaits the support of the Pope.
"Today's meeting was an amazing experience," said Tolliver. "With the support and blessing of the Pope, we look forward to starting the next season again to continue pushing for change and bringing our communities together."
Pope Francis beats up COVID-19 skeptics and media organizations spreading their conspiracies in a new book written during the coronavirus lockdown at the Vatican.
In "Let Us Dream" Francis also criticizes populist politicians who hold rallies in a way reminiscent of the 1930s and the hypocrisy of "rigid" conservative Catholics who support them.
He doesn't name Donald Trump, but the comparison is unmistakable.
But he also criticizes the violent demise of historical statues during protests for racial equality this year as a misguided attempt to "purify the past".
The 150-page book, slated for December 1st, was ghost-written by Francis & # 39; English-speaking biographer Austen Ivereigh.
Kyle Korver (center) and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Dollars are pictured after the team boycotted a game in response to police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin
At its core, & # 39; Let Us Dream & # 39; aims to outline Francis' vision of an economically and environmentally fairer world after the coronavirus, in which the poor, old and weak are not on the sidelines and the rich are not just consumed with profits.
But it also offers new personal insights into the 83-year-old Argentine Pope and his sense of humor.
Without identifying the United States or Trump by name, Francis picks countries with a Christian majority in which nationalist-populist leaders try to defend Christianity from perceived enemies.
The Bucks & # 39; Sterling Brown is a part of the NBA Social Justice Coalition
"As I listen to some of the populist leaders we have now, I remember the 1930s when some democracies collapsed into dictatorships, apparently overnight," wrote Francis. "We're seeing it again now at rallies where populist leaders arouse and harass the crowd, channeling their resentment and hatred against imaginary enemies to distract from the real problems."
People fall prey to such rhetoric out of fear, not true religious belief, he wrote. Such "superficially religious people vote for populists in order to protect their religious identity without worrying that fear and hatred of the other cannot be reconciled with the gospel."
Francis brought up the killing of Floyd, a black man whose death on the knee of a white policeman that year sparked protests in the United States. Regarding Floyd by name, Francis said, "Abuse is a gross violation of human dignity that we cannot allow and that we must continue to fight."
However, he warned that protests can be tampered with and refused to attempt to erase history by knocking down statues of U.S. Confederate leaders.
A better way, he said, is to discuss the past in dialogue.
"Amputating history can cause us to lose our memories. It is one of the few means by which we cannot repeat past mistakes," he wrote.
Italian-born San Antonio Spurs security guard Marco Belinelli was reportedly the only player speaking Italian with Argentine-born Pope Francis
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