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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Amid a national reckoning on race that has consumed the sports world, NBA players are poised to shape the conversation — and perhaps even influence the upcoming election.

The state of play: The NBA bubble has been politicized from the start, with social justice messages everywhere. But the Milwaukee Bucks' strike on Wednesday set a new bar and made the NBA a leader in a movement it had previously only participated in.

  • President Trump responded on Thursday, saying the NBA has "become more like a political organization."
  • "They've put a lot of slogans out, but I think what we need to do is turn that [into] actual action," added Jared Kushner.

Driving the news: LeBron James has already taken action by heading up More Than A Vote, an athlete-led group devoted to fighting voter suppression in Black electoral districts and turning stadiums into polling sites for Election Day.

  • The non-profit organization, which is made up of Black athletes from the NBA and other leagues, just launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to address poll worker shortages.
  • Since voting site volunteers are typically older, there's concern about them staying home this year due to COVID-19 risks, so election officials are grateful for the spotlight athletes are bringing to the issue.
  • "This is the ballgame," Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told NYT. "This is not just an important partnership. This is critical."

The big picture: While their Black activist predecessors acted alone or in small groups, today's NBA players have strength in numbers.

  • When Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, he couldn't stay in the same hotels or eat at the same restaurants as his teammates.
  • When the Bucks went on strike, they were inside a different kind of bubble — one that has brought players closer together and unified the league.
"In a college campus-like environment they've studied history, discussed politics and watched the news — doing all this as a group, undistracted by travel and personal lives to an extent that would not have been possible outside the bubble as illness, violence and chaos have swirled outside."
— Jonathan Eig, WashPost

The bottom line: As a new generation of athletes gets more involved politically, the role of sports changes. This comes at a cost, and NBA writers have already suggested that it's hurting viewership.

Listen: WNBA's Renee Montgomery on More Than A Vote

Go deeper

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
Nov 24, 2020 - Sports

When athletes find out about trades on Twitter

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

There's a new tradition in sports: finding out you've been traded on social media.

The latest: Ricky Rubio found out he'd been traded by the Suns last week while scrolling Twitter at his home in Barcelona, he told The Athletic.

  • Kelly Oubre found out he'd been dealt after a workout at the Suns' facility.
  • "I just see people looking at me with like a glare in their eyes," he said. "I was like, hmm. And then Cheick Diallo was like, 'Hey, my boy, check Twitter.'"

Pelosi calls raising the debt ceiling a bipartisan responsibility

Photo: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a "dear colleague" statement Sunday evening, calling on Congress to act in a bipartisan manner to raise the nation's debt ceiling.

Why it matters: Congress is fast approaching an October deadline to raise the nation's debt ceiling and avoid a government shutdown. But the issue has become a thorny partisan stand-off.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Beto not even best Dem against Abbott

Beto O'Rourke speaks at a rally at the Texas State Capitol in June. Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images

Actor Matthew McConaughey’s nine-point lead in a theoretical matchup against Greg Abbott shows just how vulnerable the hard-right Texas governor could be in a general election.

Why it matters: Abbott has won conservative accolades for his abortion, mask and vaccine bans. Axios reported Sunday that former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is preparing to announce a gubernatorial challenge — but a recent poll shows he’s not even the most popular Democrat in the state.