WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden welcomed the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks to the White House on Monday, praising team members not just for their achievements on the court but also for their efforts to promote coronavirus vaccinations and for speaking out after the 2020 police shooting of Jacob Blake sparked protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The Bucks were the first NBA champions to visit the White House in nearly five years, ending a Donald Trump-era hiatus.
“You took a stand for justice and peace in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and you’ve gotten people engaged,” Biden said.
The NBA postponed games in 2020 after the Bucks announced they would not participate in Game 5 of a first-round playoff series as they sought to shed light on what they said were racial injustices facing African American communities.
The Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, seemed genuinely excited to get back to the tradition of NBA champs visiting the White House. Antetokounmpo even posted a video on social media of him practicing his greeting for the president.
Antetokounmpo helped the Bucks end a 50-year drought, bringing home an NBA championship for the first time since Lew Alcindor (the Hall of Famer who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after converting to Islam) and Oscar Robertson led the team.
Biden spoke of Antetokounmpo’s humble upbringing before he came to fame in the NBA. Antetokounmpo, who was born in Greece to Nigerian immigrants, said after the ceremony that he became emotional hearing Biden tell his story. He was also proud that the president highlighted his and his teammates’ activism.
“What we did had never happened in sport,” he said. “I’m proud of my teammates that we were able to stay in the locker room, talk about it, voice our opinion. … I was able to take a stand for something I believe in.”
Biden also paid tribute to Ted Kellner, a Wisconsin businessman and philanthropist who served as an honorary chairman of the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, and former Bucks owner Herb Kohl, a Democrat who was a U.S. senator from Wisconsin for four terms, starting with the 1988 election.
Biden noted that Kellner had helped save his first run for the U.S. Senate in 1972 with an infusion of cash when he was running short on funds.
Current Bucks owner Marc Lasry slyly suggested that he hopes that the team keeps coming back to celebrate championships as long as Biden is president.
“What the hell, why don’t we come back for the next four years?” Lasry said. “Let’s do it for eight years.”
The sitting president, regardless of party, often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically nonpartisan affairs in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.
But the celebratory visits became highly charged during the Trump presidency as many athletes took issue with Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more.
The last NBA team to visit the White House was the Cleveland Cavaliers, just days after Trump was elected president and while Barack Obama was still in office.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.
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