Amid a difficult and confusing night in the NBA, one in which players were pitted against each other in a hotel ballroom on the Disney World campus of the league’s restart, a frustrated LeBron James apparently reached out to one of the few fellow icons he knows who could advise him on making weighty decisions: former President of the United States Barack Obama.
According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Obama spoke with James, players association president Chris Paul and a small group of players to offer guidance in deciding whether to continue to play in the NBA’s Orlando bubble environment following the boycott of Wednesday’s playoff games. Obama, according to Charania, suggested the players keep playing.
The players also wanted to have Obama get involved with a committee that would help guide “player action.” While the fate of that idea is unclear, Obama might have had some hand in bringing James and others back to the court. Players agreed on Thursday to return, and the games will pick back up on Saturday.
Obama is a well-known fan of NBA and college basketball. While in office, he would often make his March Madness NCAA tournament picks on ESPN and, as a Chicago native, appeared in this year’s documentary about Michael Jordan’s final season, “The Last Dance.” Obama grew up a Bulls fan in the 1980s and said in the documentary that, “When Michael first came to town, I didn’t have the money to buy tickets for a Bulls game, even the discount ones back in the day. I was pretty broke.”
Call to Obama Followed NBA Boycotts, Tense Meeting
James’ Obama call was part of a stunning turn of events over the last three days that began on Wednesday with the Milwaukee Bucks, who were scheduled to play Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Magic in Orlando. But the Bucks decided they would boycott the game in protest of Sunday’s shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, just about 30 miles south of Milwaukee.
Once the Bucks pulled out of their game, the entire NBA slate was postponed and the schedule for Thursday and Friday were later called off, too.
On Wednesday night, a tense player meeting was held in which all 13 remaining teams in Orlando voted to continue on with the playoffs—except for two, the Clippers and Lakers, two of the favorites to win an NBA championship this year. James was among the players who walked out of the meeting early, raising the specter of a total cancelation of the season.
LeBron James Had Pushed for NBA Restart
James was apparently angry over the way the unity of the NBA players in the league’s restart had collapsed with the Bucks’ decision to boycott their scheduled game without informing their opponent, the Magic, or anyone else in the league.
As one agent told Heavy.com, “There had been such an emphasis on having a united front for this entire thing that to have one team break off and make a decision like that, I think it stung some of the players. They had gone through a lot to try to get everyone on the same page and then all of the sudden, they’re not on the same page, one group goes rogue.”
James had been a bulwark in pulling together the top talent across the NBA in May, assuring league commissioner Adam Silver that if a safe and practical environment could be established, a return to action was possible. Thus the events of this week caused him some personal unrest, which was cooled after talking with Obama and others.