‘Play for Justice’: The NBA Is Sending the Kings and Bucks to Prison

The Sacramento Kings and Milwaukee Bucks have united to support a cause bigger than the game they play on the court. The teams recently announced they will host events called “Play For Justice” at prisons around their cities. With this, the NBA seeks to break the stigma around prisoners and promote rehabilitation under incarceration.

It may not have anything to do with the on-court product for either team, but it’s still important. So how is the NBA going to pull off this major initiative and how have inmates responded?

The NBA’s ‘Play for Justice’

Play for Justice was organized alongside the Represent Justice Campaign, a movement that starts conversations about inmates’ rights and raises money toward U.S. prison reform. Among the people who work for Represent Justice Campaign, CNN personality Van Jones travels the country advocating on the movement’s behalf. 

According to The Undefeated, the basketball games will take place throughout the year in both Sacramento and Milwaukee. But the two NBA teams will co-host an event together in Milwaukee at an undisclosed location.

The Kings and Bucks hope to highlight stories of hope and redemption, not sadness and hopelessness. Team representatives will work with the inmates as coaches and advisers in the exhibition games.

The Kings and Bucks making a difference

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive was happy to get involved in the initiative. He is no stranger to using his place as an NBA owner to advocate for social justice. In 2018, Ranadive made headlines after partnering with Black Lives Matter when protests nearly shut down two home games for the Kings. 

“Sports franchises have a unique opportunity to bring about positive change…” said Ranadive per The Undefeated. “This collaboration with Represent Justice is another example of how we can use our platforms for good.”

Players will receive gear to play in, and their families will receive their gear, too. Actress Brie Larson will host screenings of her upcoming film Just Mercy, a story about a wrongfully-accused inmate in the justice system.

Bucks player Sterling Brown, who made headlines when officers got excessively violent with him over a double-parking citation, spoke about the importance of this initiative:

“My teammates, coaches and I are honored to take part in this unique criminal justice initiative to hear the stories of our community members and the challenges they face daily,” said Brown. “We are looking forward to sharing in this experience with them while also identifying how we can further this important conversation nationwide through basketball.”

The Kings’ first ‘Play for Justice’ event

The Kings held the first event inside the walls of Folsom Prison. They brought popcorn, cotton candy, a dance troupe, a DJ, and of course, players and personnel. Marvin Bagley, Trevor Ariza, Nemanja Bjelica, Ranadive, and GM Vlade Divac all sat on the bench. Head coach Luke Walton took to the floor and played with Ariza’s team. 

According to the Sacramento Bee, one inmate, Joseph Keller, stunned his colleagues with trick shots and flashy moves. He had played basketball in high school and community college and people enjoyed watching him hit it up with players.

The prison had less than a month to set up for the event. To pull it off, they erected a scoreboard and a tarp overhead to get it done. The result was a positive moment that seemed to do exactly what it hoped for.

It can be easy to forget that many of these players and coaches and teams enjoy speaking on issues that are bigger than themselves. By hosting these events, the NBA shows it can give back to the community and bring some joy to people outside of the spotlight.