Ben Strauss of Politico Magazine published a profile on Kobe Bryant in which the five-time NBA champion explained what he misses about President Barack Obama, and how America’s first black president stoked the coals of activism among NBA players.
“He made locker rooms more politically aware,” Bryant said. “Conversations changed. Obviously, now with the violence we’re seeing across the country, that’s something athletes are understanding more and more. He was rare. We all miss him to a certain extent.”
The piece goes on to detail the close relationship between the NBA and the Obama White House, particularly the active involvement of stars like Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in promoting his policies and agenda.
This is of course a stark contrast to the way that vocal NBA players and coaches speak about Donald Trump and his policies – particularly the ones that are racially motivated and/or attempt to place bans on immigration. It is, after all, a league comprised largely of black men and which employs players from around the world. Both Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich have been openly critical in their disgust and disagreement with the president’s policies and practices, as has former NBA MVP Steph Curry.
Still, Bryant sees great value in making that post-championship team visit to the White House regardless of the man holding office. While he may vehemently oppose the administration’s positions on almost everything, as most former Obama supporters do, he believes that the visit isn’t really about whoever it is that is in power at the moment.
“I probably would go,” Bryant said, pausing for a beat before answering. “That visit is more than how you feel about the current administration. It’s about the guys next to you, about the flag, about the kids out there who look up to you and the United States. But, honestly, it’s a tough call.”
“When you get that platform, it makes you—whether you want to be or not—an ambassador for your people,” he said. “The more constructive move is to go and tell him you’re there on behalf of the disenfranchised.”
As the NBA Finals continue on, there will no doubt be increased debate as to who on the winning team will attend the traditional White House visit to shake hands with Donald Trump. Hopefully no matter what each player decides, the conversation continues to be open, honest and open-minded. Perhaps if athletes and sports media can start civil discourse about the intersection of politics and sports, we can influence the rest of the media and social media to do the same.