With Politics, NBA Speaks Its Mind If you enjoy sports only as an escape from political give and take, commentator Pablo Torre warns there's some bad news: You can no longer enjoy the NBA. Players and coaches are talking politics.
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With Politics, NBA Speaks Its Mind

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With Politics, NBA Speaks Its Mind

With Politics, NBA Speaks Its Mind

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Many Americans would like a break from political news. But that is no longer quite so easy for fans of one pro sport. Here's ESPN senior writer Pablo Torre.

PABLO TORRE: I totally get athletics as escapism. A recent New York Times op-ed writer reminded us that talking sports offers a, quote, "way for people who have diametrically opposed politics to share a beer at a bar." Well, if you enjoy sports only as an escape from political give-and-take, I have some bad news. You can no longer enjoy the NBA.

Take this past Wednesday, which began with LeBron James, the defending NBA champ, addressing Donald Trump's travel ban head-on. I stand with the many, many Americans who believe this does not represent what the United States is all about, James told The Hollywood Reporter. We should continue to speak out about it.

That same day, Steph Curry, the defending MVP, publicly parted ways with the CEO of Under Armour, his corporate partner, who'd called Trump an asset to America. I agree with the description, Curry told The Mercury News, if you remove the E-T from asset. At first, this might just sound like defiance from a couple of athletes. But listen to their bosses. Listen to Golden State coach Steve Kerr, whose own father was killed in a terror event in Beirut in 1984, discuss the travel ban two weeks ago.

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STEVE KERR: It's a horrible idea, and I'm really - and I feel for all the people who are affected. Families are being torn apart. And I worry, in the big picture, what this means to the security of the world.

TORRE: And listen to San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich taking on America's racial divide this month.

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GREGG POPOVICH: It's a tough one because people don't really want to face it. And it's in our national discourse. I mean, we have a president of the United States who spent four or five years disparaging and trying to illegitimize our president.

TORRE: Now, basketball has not always been our most political sport. In the '90s, Charles Barkley offered a rather different assessment of his public platform.

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CHARLES BARKLEY: I am not a role model. I'm not paid to be a role model.

TORRE: The NBA was where Michael Jordan, Barkley's teammate on the '92 Dream Team, reportedly backed away from endorsing a Democrat, saying Republicans buy sneakers too. But '92 was actually a turning point. That Olympic Dream Team exported basketball across the planet, bringing about a new age for the game, making basketball our most cosmopolitan and personality-driven sport.

Three-fourths of the league today is black. One-fourth of the league is foreign-born. Two NBA players, Luol Deng and Thon Maker, were born in Sudan. But to us, they're just NBA players. Yes, baseball may be our national pastime and football our national addiction, but the NBA is our nation itself, an outspoken melting pot of a family, whether you enjoy that or not.

INSKEEP: Commentator Pablo Torre, senior writer with ESPN The Magazine.

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