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NBA players: By all means, speak out

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Like everybody else, I have been consumed with the election and the selection of Donald Trump as American president and like everyone I have been somewhat in a daze in trying to conceptualize what actually happened and what it means. I am Canadian and live in Toronto, but I work with Americans and am immersed in a U.S. business with the NBA. So I am detached from the process a bit, yet engulfed in it at the same time.

Over the last few months, there have been a lot of discussions about the role athletes play when it comes to social activism and what is the appropriate way to use their voices and platforms. Colin Kaepernick made a decision to take a stand for something he believed in and that bled into all areas of sports because “What are you going to do?” became a question for many athletes. The choice of what each individual is going to do in some ways became a definition point for them as a person in other people’s eyes.

One thing I have always felt the NBA does great is communicate, especially since Adam Silver’s became commissioner. Issues that need to be addressed are addressed swiftly and directly and there is an open dialogue. In moments of need, there is clear leadership from the top and that leadership, in my opinion, takes place without barriers and layers.

Every player in the NBA knows he can email Silver at any time and receive a thoughtful response. One thing I have learned with NBA players is they are among the world’s best at judging the authenticity of people and Silver is a person who – when you speak with him – you know who he is and what he stands for and that creates a bond of trust with players. For the NBA coming into this year, there were conversations about how to handle the anthem issue and there was a plan of action that was put into place by everyone involved and anything that was chosen to be done was done as a group and showed unity. It doesn’t make the league’s approach right or wrong, but it does make it organized.

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Moving forward, NBA players are going to have to decide how to internalize and handle their feelings about what is currently going on in the country and what the selection of Trump as president means to them and to the communities they come from. There is a segment of society who feels that NBA players and athletes in general should shut up and enjoy the lottery win in life they have been dealt. There are people who believe that all professional athletes trade their right to humanity for a paycheck. It has always been my position with the people I work with that the opposite is true.

NBA players and people in advantaged positions who come from disadvantaged positions have more of a responsibility to be an example for the areas and people they feel they represent. I came to learn this with my client Mike James. His hometown of Amityville, New York wanted to do a day in his honor after he won the championship with the Pistons in 2004.

Looking back, I can see that the mayor just wanted him to come out, take some pictures and get good press for everybody and go home. Mike had another idea… He has taken this day and he refuses to give it back. Mike James Day to him means something. Every July 30 since 2004 in the park he grew up playing in in Amityville, Mike goes back and spends a lot of money to throw a day-long celebration of his community. His entire community comes out.

Who is Mike James? He is a guy who has a small cult following in basketball circles, but he is by no means a household name. I have seen first hand what he means to his community and how they come out to support him, though. I have seen what that celebration means to both them and him. He is someone they can see, touch and relate to and the ability to feel close to his success means something to them.

The politicians in his area stopped coming out after they blew the candles out on the first day and the media doesn’t heavily cover the event anymore. My point is, NBA players have a unique opportunity with the platform the league provides to impact growth and change and positivity on a grassroots level that most politicians can’t even comprehend. It’s times like these when change and positivity is needed on an individual level more than ever.

Bernie Lee is an NBA agent. His website is www.leebasket.com.

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