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Barack Obama praises LeBron James, NBA players for carrying on Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali's legacy

Jack Baer
·Writer
·2-min read
Yahoo Sports Voting Playbook
Yahoo Sports Voting Playbook

Barack Obama has liked what he’s seen from the NBA’s players and their activism in 2020.

A clip of the former president’s conversation with LeBron James was released by HBO on Thursday, and the topic was activism in the sports world. The full episode of “The Shop” with Obama will air on Friday at 9 p.m. ET.

Obama calls back to past athletes known for their activism and outspokenness — Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe, Bill Russell — then praises NBA players for picking up the torch with their wildcat strike earlier this year in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake.

Barack Obama praises NBA, WNBA for leadership

Obama’s full comment:

When you think about the history of African-American athletes, dating back to Jack Johnson the boxer, and then you’ve got Jackie Robinson, you’ve got Muhammad Ali, you’ve got folks like Bill Russell in the NBA, Arthur Ashe in tennis. And then for a while I think there was a suspension of activism. For a time, the African-American athlete started thinking in terms of contracts, money, shoe deals, etc.

To see this new generation without fear in speaking their mind and their conscience, I think you guys are setting the tone for a lot of young people coming up and a lot of other athletes in other leagues. We saw what happened after Milwaukee and the NBA players did what they did. WNBA players, you started seeing soccer players, you start seeing NFL players doing stuff, baseball. You guys really showed leadership on this in a way that deserves a lot of credit and made me real proud.

The Milwaukee Bucks kicked off a sport-shaking moment earlier this year, which had already seen widespread activism from athletes following the killing of George Floyd. Following Blake’s shooting, the Bucks refused to come out of their locker rooms before a game in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

Soon after, every team was refusing to play, and they stayed off the court until the NBA agreed to a number of conditions days later. Among those conditions was an agreement for every team-owned arena to be used as a voting site in the 2020 election. James himself has established the More Than a Vote coalition to support voting rights across the country.

The WNBA has also long been the most politically outspoken league in sports, going to places where even the NBA has feared, like sporting the names of victims of racial violence on the backs of their jerseys. As Obama mentions, even NFL and MLB players followed the NBA’s lead amid the strike.

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