Amid resurgence of athlete activism, NBA takes a stand against gun violence

The league partnered with Everytown for Gun Safety, a group backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to create a series of public service announcements featuring some of the league's top players discussing the toll of gun violence.

In the latest example of what observers describe as a resurgence of activism by nationally prominent athletes, the National Basketball Association is introducing a TV campaign featuring some of its top players aimed at raising awareness about the toll of gun violence.

The campaign, which will launch on Friday during games broadcast on ABC and ESPN, the league said Wednesday, marks a high-profile partnership between the NBA and Everytown for Gun Safety, an anti-violence group founded and backed by Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York.

"We know far too many people who have been caught up in gun violence in this country," Kathleen Behrens, the league’s president of social responsibility and player programs told The New York Times, saying there was little debate within the league about partnering with Everytown on the issue. “And we can do something about it.”

A public service announcement released Wednesday features prominent NBA players Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, and Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls discussing the personal impact gun violence has had on their lives.

“My parents always used to say, ‘A bullet didn’t have a name on it,’ ” Mr. Paul recalls in the video, while Mr. Curry reflects on hearing about the shooting of a three-year old. “My daughter Riley’s that age,” he says.

The spot never mentions "gun control," but includes people who have lost family members to gun violence speaking about their experiences and ends with the participants saying. "In the United States, 88 people die of gun violence every day."

The NBA’s partnership with Mr. Bloomberg’s group Everytown follows more grassroots activist efforts by some of the league’s players. Last year, LeBron James and fellow members of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the opposing Brooklyn Nets warmed up before a game wearing black T-shirts that read, “I Can’t Breathe,” in tribute to Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who spoke those words after being placed in a chokehold by a police officer, which lead to his death.

More recently, the University of Missouri football team – with support from the head coach – declared that they would not take the field until issues of racism on campus were addressed. Their participation in ongoing protests that had been occurring on the Mizzou campus was heralded as a milestone in campus activism and considered a major factor in the school president's eventual resignation.

While major athletic associations are known for sometimes collaborating with charities – baseball players often wear pink wristbands and swing pink bats for Breast Cancer awareness on Mothers Day, for example – the partnership between Bloomberg’s group and the NBA marks a more direct foray into a controversial issue.

The collaboration was brokered by filmmaker Spike Lee, a longtime basketball fan known in the 1990s for directing a series of Nike ads where he also costarred as the character “Mars Blackmon” with NBA superstar Michael Jordan. He is also a member of Everytown's creative council.

At first glance, the partnership between the often-outspoken Mr. Lee, a native New Yorker who recently took on the role of gun violence in Chicago's minority communities in his film "Chi-Raq," and Bloomberg, who sometimes faced criticism for ignoring the concerns of less-affluent New Yorkers, would seem unusual.

But the two men found common ground around aggressively rebutting the influence of pro-gun rights lobbying groups such as the National Rifle Association, with Lee describing a need to work toward what he called “common sense anti-gun laws.”

"But because of the NRA, politicians and the gun manufacturers, we’re dying under that tyranny," Lee told The Times. Referencing a statistic from Everytown, he added: "Ninety Americans are dying every day because of the N.R.A., gun manufacturers, and politicians willing to run you under the table."

The ad also reflects a shift in Mr. Bloomberg’s tactics, the Times reports, as he moves away from aggressively criticizing the influence of the NRA toward prioritizing the experiences of victims to reveal the impact of gun violence.

Using the influence of top NBA players like Mr. Noah, who grew up in New York and has been active in anti-violence efforts in Chicago, the campaign aims to use recognizable faces in addition to statistics, to push for action on gun violence.

“I’ll never forget playing basketball in a park with some kids, and a young woman approached me in tears, and told me that her brother had been shot and killed on that same court a year earlier,” Noah said in a statement. “Ultimately, it’s about saving lives. There’s just no room for gun violence.”

This report contains material from Reuters and The Associated Press.

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