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Civic Engagement

'We were ready to leave': LeBron James discusses seeking guidance from Barack Obama during NBA boycott

When the Milwaukee Bucks chose to sit out their first-round playoff game against the Orlando Magic in protest of the police shooting of unarmed black man Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, their NBA peers followed suit as the league's restart came to a halt.

As the players met to discuss the next steps in bringing attention to the social justice issues plaguing the country, LeBron James revealed the guidance and advice he sought from former President Barack Obama on a midnight phone call, where he encouraged the players to use their platforms to bring meaningful long-term changes.

"It was close to midnight when CP [Chris Paul] called with LeBron [James], Carmelo [Anthony] and I think [Russell] Westbrook was on the phone," Obama said on a recent episode of HBO's "The Shop: Uninterrupted.

"The conversation we had was along the lines of what LeBron spoke about. Protest is useful in terms of raising awareness, but given the power that NBA players had, my suggestion was you use that platform to see if you can start asking for specifics.

MORE: LeBron outlines mission of educating and improving Black communities through More Than a Vote

"This isn't something that's just a one-off. Sadly, what we've seen is that it happens again and again. So, one of the suggestions I had for the players was: Is it possible for you guys to set up an office that allows you, on an ongoing basis, to take best practices that are going to start making incidents like this less likely."

James, who was in the middle of the Los Angeles Lakers' first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers, revealed the players were ready to abandon the season before seeking Obama's guidance.

"When Milwaukee did what they did - and rightfully so, we understood that - there was no way that none of us could go on the floor," James said. "We stand as a brotherhood ... but there was a time where when we were ready to leave too - the Lakers, myself included, we were ready to leave.

"And we was trying to figure out, if we leave or if we stay, what is our plan? What is our call for action? And I'm lucky enough to have a friend, the 44th president, who allowed me and allowed [Chris Paul] and allowed us to get on the phone with him and get guidance."

In the coming days, the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) and NBA announced an agreement to create the Social Justice Coalition made up of players, coaches, and team governers, focused on "increasing access to voting, promoting civic engagement, and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform."

Obama has also teamed up with LeBron and his More Than A Vote non-profit which acts as a resource to encourage people to vote as well as fight voter suppression in Black communities, praising the 35-year-old for his leadership and inspiration for the next generation.

"When you think about the history of African American athletes, dating back to Jack Johnson the boxer and then you've got Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali and folks like Bill Russell in the NBA and Arthur Ashe in tennis. And then for a while, there was a suspension of activism. Because for a time, the African American athlete started thinking in terms of contracts, money, shoe deals, etc.

"To see this new generation without fear and speaking their minds and their conscience, I think you guys are setting the tone for a lot of young people coming up and a lot of young athletes in other leagues."

The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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