LeBron James and former President Barack Obama are looking back on a game-changing conversation they had over the summer about how the NBA should approach ongoing issues of racial injustice in America.
James, 35, welcomed the former president, 59, on the latest episode of his HBO talk show, The Shop: Uninterrupted. Joined by Maverick Carter during the episode, James and Obama said they had an in-depth conversation in August after the Milwaukee Bucks walked out of Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference quarterfinals following the shooting of a 29-year-old Black man, Jacob Blake, by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which sparked several nights of protests and destruction in the city.
"When Milwaukee did what they did, and rightfully so, we understood that there was no way that none of us can go on the floor," James said. "We stand as a brotherhood. We are a brotherhood in our league and we stood with the Milwaukee Bucks and what they wanted to do."
"But there was a time that we wanted to leave too, the Lakers and myself included," he continued. "We were trying to figure out if we leave or if we stay, what is our plan? What is our call to action? I am lucky enough to have a friend in the 44th president that allowed me and allowed CP (Chris Paul) to get on the phone with him and get guidance.”
HBO LeBron James, Barack Obama
Obama then recalled the phone conversation he had with James, which also included NBA stars Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and Russell Westbrook.
"Protest is useful in terms of raising awareness, but given the power that the NBA players had, my suggestion was that we use that platform to see if you can start asking for some specifics," Obama said during The Shop. "This isn't something that's just a one-off. That's sadly what we've seen, as it happens again and again."
"So, one of the suggestions I had for the players was: Is it possible for you guys to set up an office that allows you, on an ongoing basis, to take best practices that are going to start making incidents like [Blake] less likely?" Obama said
Following Obama's advice, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) established a social justice coalition composed of players, coaches, and team governors with a goal of increasing "access to voting, promoting civic engagement and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform," a press release at the time of formation in August said.
From there, the NBA season continued — and ended with the Lakers, led by James, being crowned the 2020 champions last month.
"As I told them though, it's not going to be solved overnight. This is something that we got to stay on," Obama said. "We got to keep on moving."
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images LeBron James
The former president also went on to praise James for his work ahead of the 2020 presidential election, namely the athlete's More Than a Vote nonprofit organization, which recently partnered with former First Lady Michelle Obama's organization, When We All Vote, to combine efforts.
"The fact that LeBron then has also been working with More Than a Vote, working with my outstanding partner and the most popular Obama, Michelle Obama, in getting people registered, getting them educated, understanding the connection between voting and reform so that you combine protest and going to the polls, I think that's the best outcome possible," Obama said.
The Shop: Uninterrupted is available to stream on HBO Max.