NBA

How LeBron James and Barack Obama Teamed Up to Save the 2020 NBA Playoffs

The steady stream of reporting coming out of Orlando just hours after the Milwaukee Bucks announced their boycott seemingly changed every few minutes. At one point, LeBron James and the LA Lakers and LA Clippers were finished with the season. Another report said James was angry, walked out of the meeting, but there were still ongoing discussions.

Since Wednesday night’s frantic chain of events, a lot of what happened behind-the-scenes in Florida has been made public. One less discussed nugget of information is a phone call that took place between LeBron James, several other players, and former President Barack Obama. That conversation changed the trajectory of what was happening and saved the 2020 NBA playoffs. 

LeBron James sends angry tweet after Bucks boycott

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Since the death of George Floyd, LeBron James has been extremely vocal in highlighting all the racial inequalities facing the Black community. Like many athletes, James has used his social media channels as a way to communicate. A day after police in Kenosha, Wisconsin shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times, James responded on Twitter.

“And y’all wonder why we say what we say about the Police!! Someone please tell me WTF is this???!!! Exactly another black man being targeted. This sh-t is so wrong and so sad!! Feel so sorry for him, his family and OUR PEOPLE!! We want JUSTICE.”

His anger was even more palpable on Wednesday, just minutes after the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Orlando Magic. LeBron James emotionally expressed his frustration with the situation and his support of the Bucks. 

“F-CK THIS MAN!!!! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.” 

Barack Obama commends NBA

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A day after Milwaukee’s boycott inspired the league and other leagues to take a temporary pause from sports and reflect, the former Commander-in-Chief and big basketball fan Barack Obama took to Twitter to share his thoughts on what was happening in the NBA.

“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.”

On the surface, Obama’s comments appeared to be the former President sharing his thoughts on the ever-evolving situation and showing his support for the league in taking a stand. What wasn’t known at the time is Obama had already been involved in discussions behind the scenes.

Obama advises James and others to continue 2020 playoffs

After the flurry of activity on Wednesday night, when LeBron James was reportedly ready to call off the rest of the 2020 NBA playoffs, the face of the NBA, and a small group of players, made a call to the 44th President. They wanted Obama’s advice on what to do.

According to The Athletic, Obama consulted with the players, which included Chris Paul, and told them they should continue playing, but before agreeing to do that, they should provide action items for the league to address before they returned to the court. Also on the call, the group brought up the topic of forming a committee for player action, and requested Obama’s involvement.

The players met the next day with league officials and presented their action items. On Friday, the league and players union released a joint statement announcing the return of games along with several initiatives to promote voting access, combat social injustice and racial inequality, and advocate for police reform.

“These commitments follow months of close collaboration around designing a safe and healthy environment to restart the NBA season, providing a platform to promote social justice, as well as creating an NBA Foundation focused on economic empowerment in the Black community,” the statement read. “We look forward to the resumption of the playoffs and continuing to work together — in Orlando and in all NBA team markets — to push for meaningful and sustainable change.

LeBron James has proven he’s one of the greatest on the court, helping lead his teams to three NBA titles. His actions in Orlando showed another level of leadership, including his willingness to call on others for guidance in navigating an extremely challenging set of circumstances. All signs point to the not-so-distant future when James is no longer viewed as an elite NBA player, but as a major player for social change who is making a much bigger difference in the world than he ever made on the basketball court.