For a brief period, there was a real chance of the 2019-20 NBA season going without a champion. Barack Obama’s intervention changed that.
President Obama is one of the closest political friends to the basketball fraternity in the country. He was an avid Michael Jordan fan and has bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom to him and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. As a fan concerned with the state of affairs in the league, Obama’s influence was crucial in getting the players to restart play.
The Lakers and the Clippers were the two main teams to vote against continuing the bubble playoffs. But a chat with Obama on the phone changed that. James and Obama discuss this on the latest episode of HBO show ‘The Shop’.
Barack Obama and LeBron James recount their phone conversation during NBA boycott
On August 26, the Milwaukee Bucks decided to give a walkover in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in protest of the police shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Obama tweeted his support.
I commend the players on the @Bucks for standing up for what they believe in, coaches like @DocRivers, and the @NBA and @WNBA for setting an example. It’s going to take all our institutions to stand up for our values. pic.twitter.com/rUGETgAt7P
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 27, 2020
Shortly after, other NBA teams joined them and the league shut down as a result. According to LeBron:
“When Milwaukee did what they did, we understood that there was no way that none of us can go on the floor. We stand as a brotherhood. We are a brotherhood in our league and we stood with the Milwaukee Bucks and what they wanted to do.”
“But there was a time that we wanted to leave too, the Lakers and myself included. We were ready to leave and we were trying to figure out if we leave or if we stay, what is our plan? What is our call to action? I am lucky enough to have a friend in the 44th president. That allowed me and allowed CP (Chris Paul) to get on the phone with him and get guidance.”
Obama had a pragmatic solution to the standoff. He asked the players if they could lobby for specific solutions regarding social justice.
“It was close to midnight when CP called with LeBron, Carmelo and I think Westbrook was on the phone,” said Obama. “The conversation we had was along the lines of what LeBron spoke about. Protest is useful in terms of raising awareness, but given the power that NBA players had, my suggestion was you use that platform to see if you can start asking for specifics.”
Ultimately, the players decided to get back on court and finish the season out. They got the owners to pledge support to social justice causes – a joint forum between players and owners. This is more than any sports league in USA has ever done before.