LeBron James, Doc Rivers and the NBA’s Growing Activism

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers talks about the wave of social activism in the NBA and how he encourages his players to explore the world beyond basketball.

By Chris Thomsen SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — Clippers head coach Doc Rivers cares a lot about winning. But it may not be the only thing that matters to him when he takes the floor.

“I take my job and the sport and winning is, like, madly important for me,” Rivers said. “But there’s also another purpose to your life. What are you going to do with it?”

Rivers has stood out as an NBA coach due to his ability to connect the game of basketball to current events, social issues and more as a means of inspiration for his players. He often uses the stories of Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King Jr. in his pregame speeches. When coaching the Celtics in 2008, Rivers introduced the term “ubuntu” that represents the mutual bond that humans share.

And in 2014, Rivers was essential in guiding the Clippers through the infamous Donald Sterling scandal: his team was ready to boycott playoff games if Sterling wasn’t removed as the owner of the team following his publicized racist comments.

But the Clippers coach isn’t alone: multiple players, coaches and executives are now taking public stances on social issues, including superstars such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The two MVPs recorded an interview last week where neither James nor Durant held back when discussing President Donald Trump.

“The number one job in America, the point of person is someone who doesn’t understand the people,” James said. “And who doesn’t really give an (expletive) about the people.”

“You need to empower people,” Durant said. “You need to encourage people. And that’s what builds a great team. And I feel like our team, as a country, is not ran by a great coach.”

Their criticism fueled critical responses, including a monologue by Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham.

“LeBron and Kevin, you’re great players, but no one voted for you,” Ingraham said. “So keep the political commentary to yourself — or as someone once said, ‘Shut up and dribble.'”

But to Rivers and the rest of the NBA, basketball is much more than dribbling. It provides a platform that enables people, like James, to voice their opinions.

“Basketball can use you, or you can use it,” Rivers said. “And if you use it the right way, you can open up a lot of doors. You can open up a lot of minds. And we are on this Earth, in my opinion, to do that.”

While these instances may play out differently in the future, a wave of social activism is slowly taking over the NBA. It appears, for now, that critics won’t stop them.