Monday marked the greatest NBA interaction with a pope since Mark Pope averaged 1.9 points per game for a career ending in 2005.
This pope was more meaningful, with ESPN reporting that a momentous meeting took place Monday morning between Pope Francis and five NBA players and players’ union officials at the Vatican. The pope issued them an unprecedented invitation to come and discuss their work in bringing more attention to social justice issues.
Marco Belinelli, an Italian, and fellow NBA players Sterling Brown, Jonathan Isaac, Kyle Korver and Anthony Tolliver were hastily scheduled for an overnight flight to make the private meeting. The Catholic News Service photographed the players seated around the periphery of a papal library room in the Apostolic Palace with the pope and National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts. The players and Roberts were not going to miss the chance, even with training camp eight days away.
“We’re here because, frankly, we’re inspired by the work that you do globally,” Roberts told the pope, according to the Associated Press.
It helped to have Belinelli speaking directly to the pope in Italian. The group gave Pope Francis a book that highlighted the players’ discussed efforts, a basketball, a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and an Orlando Magic jersey (maybe the pope has been praying for Markelle Fultz’s jump shot).
Imagine getting an email with an invitation to meet the pope. Well, first, imagine being a multimillionaire. But that doesn’t make the invitation much more plausible.
“I thought it was a fraud email that I got,” Korver told the New York Times.
The whole thing was hard to believe even when the 30-minute meeting ended. “I’m still not even sure if this really happened,” Roberts told reporters.