Pope Francis Meets with NBA Players to Discuss ‘Economic Inequality’

Pope Francis meets with NBA delegation in Vatican
Courtesy of Vatican Media

ROME — Pope Francis met with a delegation of NBA players in the Vatican Monday to discuss economic equality and other “social justice issues.”

According to a report by ESPN, at the pope’s behest, the Vatican reached out to the basketball players’ association last week because the pontiff wished to know more about how players “had recently brought attention to pressing social justice issues and economic inequality,” in reference to players’ taking a knee to protest “systemic racism” and other issues.

The delegation meeting with Francis included Kyle Korver and Sterling Brown of the Milwaukee Bucks; Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic; Anthony Tolliver of the Memphis Grizzlies; Marco Belinelli of the San Antonio Spurs; and Michele Roberts, executive director of the players’ union.

The players’ union scheduled an overnight flight Sunday so that the delegation could make it to a private meeting with the pope Monday morning, which took place in the papal library at the Apostolic Palace.

The NBA players and the union “used their stage at the NBA’s 2020 season restart in Orlando to place a spotlight on police brutality, racial injustice and other issues,” ESPN noted, and many players decorated the backs of their jerseys with slogans. The league and union also agreed to paint “Black Lives Matter” along one sideline in support of the Marxist-inspired movement of the same name.

Brown, whose annual salary of $1.27 million was the lowest of the group, signed a new contract with the Houston Rockets over the weekend for an unspecified sum. All of the players make more per year than 99.9 percent of Americans, making them particularly well qualified to discuss economic inequality.

When the NBA relaunched its season this summer after a five-month hiatus due to the coronavirus, it made social justice messaging and imagery a hallmark of its television broadcasts, a decision that caused viewership to plummet.

The 2020 finals in early October became the least watched final series in NBA history, with less that a third of the number of viewers from 2019.

Fans credited their diminished interest in NBA basketball to dissatisfaction with the overtly political nature of the games.

According to a September 2 Harris poll, 39 percent of respondents felt that the league had become too political. And another 19 percent said that they had turned off pro basketball because of the NBA’s deep ties to China.

When Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted a message in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists in October 2019, the league denounced the Rockets’ boss and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver quickly apologized to China.

The NBA has a deal with Chinese Internet provider Tencent worth $1.5 billion, and the Chinese basketball leagues working in cooperation with the NBA are providing the league with an additional $4 billion.

According to Fox Business, LeBron James “holds a lifetime deal valued at $1 billion with sports retail giant Nike, which saw its sales in China surge 27 percent to nearly $1.7 billion in its most recent fiscal quarter alone.”

“James’ standing in China could also impact the future efforts of his media production company, SpringHill Entertainment,” Fox Business noted. “The firm is producing Space Jam 2, the highly anticipated sequel to NBA legend Michael Jordan’s original film, which will seek a massive return from Chinese audiences.”

In October, the Vatican renewed a controversial 2018 secret agreement with the Chinese Communist Party regarding the naming of Catholic bishops in the country.

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