Donovan Mitchell says NBA players’ powerful meeting in bubble changed dynamic of 2020 presidential election

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Ashley Landis/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell said that NBA players meeting in the Orlando, Fla. bubble during the 2019-20 season helped change the dynamic of the 2020 presidential election.

NBA players were extremely active during the bubble, speaking out against police brutality and the climate of the United States in 2020. The players returned to action during the COVID-19 pandemic to finish the 2019-20 season in the bubble, but they did more than simply entertain people by playing basketball.

“People talk about the bubble to this day about how much our game during that summer – and obviously all sports, but especially the NBA – how much that impacted their time,” Mitchell said. “And that for me was like, ‘Wow, we really made an impact’ as far as being vocal, being global. And what we did, opening the arenas for people to come in and vote. That was huge. That was something that we had never thought about until that moment we all sat in the room, and we talked about it.

“And that right there changed the dynamic of the election. For us, that showed me more than anything – I’d always known we had a voice – but that for me really showed.”

During the 2019-20 season, there were several incidents that led to NBA players becoming activists for social justice efforts.

There was a two-day boycott during the bubble following the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wis.

During that time, Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James and his team were ready to leave the bubble, with the Los Angeles Clippers joining them, per NBA insider Chris Haynes.

However, James and the players were eventually able to press the league’s owners to do more in terms of civic engagement.

“On the call, James was stern in calling on owners to do more in aiding the Black community and to play more of a role in using their resources to combat systemic racism, sources said,” Haynes wrote.

“James had already told players he was in, but depending on how the meeting went with owners, he would have reversed course if things went sideways, sources said.”

Several NBA players worked to help find a resolution, saving the season after it had already been in jeopardy months earlier because of the pandemic.

The league eventually resumed the playoffs, but there were clear directives from Adam Silver and the National Basketball Players Association to increase activism and awareness during that time.

Following the meeting, Silver and then-NBPA executive director Michele Roberts released a joint statement, expressing that they would work on key commitments if they were going to continue the season.

The commitments included the NBA and its players establishing a social justice coalition that focused on a “broad range of issues, including increasing access to voting, promoting civic engagement, and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.”

Not only that, but the meeting led to the NBA using arenas as polling locations for the 2020 election.

“In every city where the league franchise owns and controls the arena property, team governors will continue to work with local elections officials to convert the facility into a voting location for the 2020 general election to allow for a safe in-person voting option for communities vulnerable to COVID,” Silver and Roberts said.

During the 2020 election, several different NBA arenas were used as polling locations, allowing different avenues for people to vote and have their voices heard. The NBA has continued to advocate for people to vote, and it didn’t hold games on Election Day this year to encourage people to go out and vote.

The league also worked to use advertisement spots to promote greater civic engagement.

“The league will work with the players and our network partners to create and include advertising spots in each NBA playoff game dedicated to promoting greater civic engagement in national and local elections and raising awareness around voter access and opportunity,” Silver and Roberts said.

There’s no doubt that the NBA players’ decision to advocate for these things helped drive up civic engagement in the United States in 2020. It’s great to see that Mitchell and other NBA players know how big of an impact they can make on the world by using their platforms to speak on issues that matter to them.

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Peter is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where he covered the MAAC and college basketball for three years. He has worked for NBC Sports, the Connecticut Sun and the Meriden Record-Journal covering basketball and other major sports. Follow him on Twitter @peterdewey2.