Former President Barack Obama reportedly advised top NBA players during their boycott last week in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Athletic reported.
The NBA postponed two days of playoff games last week in response to the Blake shooting and subsequent protests and riots in Wisconsin. The protest began when the Milwaukee Bucks, without consulting other teams, decided at the last minute not to take the court for a playoff game against the Orlando Magic.
The call was reportedly initiated by Chris Paul, who is the president of the NBA players union, and included LeBron James and a small group of other players. CNN reported:
Katie Hill, a spokeswoman for Obama, told CNN in a statement, "As an avid basketball fan, President Obama speaks regularly with players and league officials. When asked, he was happy to provide advice on Wednesday night to a small group of NBA players seeking to leverage their immense platforms for good after their brave and inspiring strike in the wake of Jacob Blake's shooting."
"They discussed establishing a social justice committee to ensure that the players' and league's actions this week led to sustained, meaningful engagement on criminal justice and police reform."
The league resumed play over the weekend, pointing to a decision by team owners to use NBA arenas as voting centers in November as a sign that the protest was successful. There were no predetermined goals for the spontaneous protest, so part of the challenge for the league was to figure out what exactly players wanted in order to start playing again.
The protest began Wednesday, and players met Wednesday night. James and Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard reportedly were adamant about cancelling the rest of the playoffs. CBS Sports reported that James didn't feel like the team owners were doing enough, although what specifically that means in the context of police shootings is unclear.
Obama spoke with the players Wednesday night as well. By Thursday morning, again without detailed explanation, James had reportedly changed his mind and decided that it would be best for the season to continue.
NBA ratings have been down all season, even dating back to before COVID-19, and have continued to decrease since play resumed in July.