Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac was among the representatives from the NBPA to visit Pope Francis and discuss the players’ social justice efforts.
The NBA went front and center with its fight to create racial equality in the United States during the summer.
With the coronavirus keeping everyone home and shutting down the season, yet police brutality continuing to lead to the deaths of Black citizens within the United States, NBA players were leading the push for change and putting a well-known face to the problems plaguing their communities and their country.
That message carried over inside the NBA campus when the season resumed. Players agreed they would only return if they were allowed to express themselves in some fashion and if there was a commitment from the league’s board of governors to fight for equality at home.
When police officers shot George Blake in the back in Kenosha, Wis., the Milwaukee Bucks sat out Game 5 against the Orlando Magic in protest. They were able to spur immediate action from the Wisconsin legislature at least to meet over proposed social justice legislation. The league recommitted to opening their arenas for early voting and to push to register not only players within the league but a larger push to turn out voters for the 2020 election.
The league promised — and has since set — a social justice coalition involving league officials, players and team governors to look for more ways to push for social justice reform.
Like it or not, NBA players are some of the most visible Black men in the country. They do have an incredible voice and serve as role models throughout the country. It might help that the audience for basketball games is more open to the messages they are trying to convey, but they have something to say.
And the world is clearly listening.
The NBA and its players are still in the beginning stages of discovering the power of their unified voice. But they have the world’s attention.
A delegation of players and officials from the NBPA, including Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, was invited to visit and speak with Pope Francis about their social justice issues and causes in Italy on Monday.
Zach Lowe of ESPN detailed the players met with Pope Francis for about an hour and discussed their efforts to promote social justice both from inside the bubble and beyond it. The Pope reportedly sought the meeting with the NBPA and the players because of the platform they have to spur change.
Isaac is a notable inclusion for several reasons.
He is an ordained minister — not in Catholicism — and has been outspoken in the influence of God and religion in his life. He was one of the few players who chose to stand for the national anthem while he was inside the campus, explaining afterward he believed faith in God and prayer was the answer to resolving the turmoil and strife facing the country.
Isaac recently hosted a prayer walk in downtown Orlando called Hold Up The Lights to further this point and this purpose.
Isaac is still very active in the community and has been a winner of the team’s community service award in recent seasons. He was active in the community too during the pandemic, providing meals to students who usually depend on the public school system for meals and delivering meal kits to families in need.
He is also the Magic’s player representative to the players association.
Isaac was not alone in addressing social issues in Central Florida. Michael Carter-Williams took the lead among Magic players inside the NBA Campus in learning more about social justice issues in Central Florida specifically.
While the Magic were inside the campus, they met with Orange County Sheriff John Mina and asked questions about the shooting of Salaythis Melvin. Carter-Williams has remained outspoken and has joined Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings for several conversations with local organizers and students.
Magic coach Steve Clifford has also been a part of Orange County’s social justice task force. He has spent time helping register voters and participated in a day of service with Florida Rights Restoration Coalition director Desmond Meade.
There is undoubtedly still work to do in the Orlando community and elsewhere. But NBA players and representatives remain front and center, continuing to make their mark even outside the bubble.
Monday was an incredible opportunity for Isaac. More importantly, it shows the acknowledged influence and leadership NBA players have shown on an important issue affecting their communities.