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NBA players meet with Pope Francis at Vatican to discuss social justice issues

The invitation from the Vatican was a shock to players and officials

Pope Francis
Pope Francis during weekly general audience at the Vatican, Oct. 7, 2020
(Valicchia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Updated: November 24, 2020 - 7:51am

Several NBA players and officials from the players association privately met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Monday to discuss their recent efforts related to social justice and economic inequality. 

Players Kyle Korver, Sterling Brown, Anthony Tolliver, Marco Belinelli, and Jonathan Isaac attended the meeting with the leader of the Catholic Church. They were joined by Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association.

The Vatican recently extended an invitation to the players, saying the pope had an interest in learning more about the recent efforts of the NBA. 

"I thought it was a fraud email that I got," Korver, who plays for the Milwaukee Bucks, told the New York Times. "I called Michele right away. I was like, ‘Is this for real?’ She said, ‘Yes, it is and would you like to come in like two days?’ This came together really quick."

The meeting lasted about 30 minutes, and players took turns addressing the pope. Belinelli was able to do so in Italian, offering the pope books about their community and social initiatives, as well as jerseys and T-shirts with social justice slogans printed on them. 

In late August, Brown and Korver were members of the team that initiated a widespread refusal to play among professional athletes, following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. 

The number of players on the trip was limited due to the short notice of the event, ongoing coronavirus pandemic and continuation of the free agency period at home. 

Pope Francis expressed concern as he watched social unrest unfold across American this summer.

"Instances of racism continue to shame us, for they show that our supposed social progress is not as real or definitive as we think," he said during his October encyclical. "Racism is a virus that quickly mutates and, instead of disappearing, goes into hiding, and lurks in waiting."

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