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Pope Francis supports NBA players' work to promote social justice

Pope Francis supports NBA players' work to promote social justice
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Pope FrancisPope FrancisPope to miss three upcoming events due to sciatic leg pain Pope says he prays God guides Biden's reconciliation efforts Pope Francis gets COVID-19 vaccine MORE said he supports NBA players' work to promote social justice after he met with a handful of players on Monday.

The pope labeled the group of five players he met at the Vatican as “champions” and “models” for their public support of social justice movements after the U.S. experienced a fresh reckoning with racial justice earlier this year.

“You’re champions,” the pope told the players. “But also giving the example of teamwork, you’ve become a model, giving that good example of teamwork but always remaining humble ... and preserving your own humanity.”

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The players who met the pope were Marco Belinelli, Sterling Brown, Jonathan Isaac, Kyle Korver and Anthony Tolliver. They were also joined by National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts and two other union executives, Sherrie Deans and Matteo Zuretti, according to a statement from the union.

The players detailed “their individual and collective efforts addressing social and economic injustice and inequality occurring in their communities,” according to the statement. 

Roberts said Pope Francis's desire to meet with the players showed the “influence of their platforms.” 

“We’re here because, frankly, we’re inspired by the work that you do globally,” Roberts told the pope during the meeting in the papal library, according to The Associated Press

Belinelli communicated with the pope in Italian, and they gave the pope a commemorative basketball, a union-produced book of their social justice efforts and an Orlando Magic jersey, the AP reported.

The meeting came days before the release of Pope Francis’s book “Let Us Dream,” in which the religious leader says he supports the demands for racial justice following George Floyd’s death. 

Floyd died in Minneapolis in May after a police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. The pope had called Floyd’s death “tragic” over the summer. 

After the deaths of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the NBA and WNBA made the Black Lives Matter movement a central message of the leagues. In August, after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., the Milwaukee Bucks decided to sit out a playoff game in protest of the incident.