On Monday, five delegates from the NBA traveled to Vatican City and met with Pope Francis for a 60-minute sit-down to talk about economic inequality, social justice and to learn more about how the NBA players were addressing these matters.
The group included Marco Belinelli of the San Antonio Spurs, Sterling Brown of the Houston Rockets, the Orlando Magic‘s Jonathan Isaac, Kyle Korver from the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Memphis Grizzlies‘ Anthony Tolliver. Other players expressed interest in visiting but were unable due to the pending start of the 2020-2021 season, free agency issues, and the quick turnaround required for this specific trip.
According to CBS, the pontiff told the group, “You’re champions. But also giving the example of teamwork, you’ve become a model, giving that good example of teamwork but always remaining humble … and preserving your own humanity.”
After the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the NBA allowed players to wear social justice sayings on their jerseys, and “Black Lives Matter” was painted onto each court at the Disney World “Bubble” in Orlando, Florida, where the games were being played. Afterward, in his June 3 Weekly audience, Pope Francis said, “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life,” watching the “disturbing social unrest” in the United States with unfolding with “great concern.”
Of his meeting with the Pope, Korver said the pope told him, “sport is such an opportunity to unify, and he compared it to a team, where you have a common goal, and you’re working together, but you all use your own personalities.”
The Pope and the traveling party had pictures taken without their masks, as he is known to go without them when meeting indoors. However, the group party underwent a diagnostic test for the COVID-19 72 hours before leaving for Rome, and they will all be retested once they arrive back in the United States.