The NBA is taking indirect aim at the NRA.
The league unveiled a new public service announcement on Wednesday that features some of its biggest stars lending their voices to the campaign to end gun violence. The PSA will air on Christmas Day during a handful of nationally televised games on ABC and ESPN. While the first 32-second spot doesn’t mention the words “gun control” or call for a specific policy action, the message is hard to miss, particularly since it was part of a Spike Lee-brokered joint effort between the NBA and Everytown for Gun Safety, the advocacy group founded (and funded) by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to act as a counterweight to the National Rifle Association.
The ad features stars from some of the league’s biggest markets—the Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry, the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, the Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah, and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul—as well as survivors of gun violence and others who have been impacted by it, including the father of Alison Parker, the Virginia television reporter who was shot and killed in the middle of a live broadcast this summer. It features personal stories from the players, as well as a people reciting the statistic that an average of 88 people die each day from gun violence in the United States. “We can end gun violence,” Curry says at the end.
Professional sports are a multibillion-dollar business, and leagues are traditionally loath to do anything that could offend potential customers. If the NBA had any reservations about jumping into the polarizing gun debate, though, they’re putting on a good poker face. “We know far too many people who have been caught up in gun violence in this country,” Kathleen Behrens, the league’s president of social responsibility and player programs, told the New York Times. “And we can do something about it.”
*Update Dec. 24: So much for that poker face, if that’s what it was to begin with. NBA chief spokesman Mike Bass later gave an extended quote to the Times stressing that the PSA is “solely intended to raise awareness about the issue of personal safety in our communities,” and does not “advocate for any change in law or policy.” The NBA also reached out to Slate to stress that the ad was made in partnership with Everytown’s educational arm, and not the group’s political shop. The fact the league is now eager to make that distinction suggests it has no interest in getting caught in the political crossfire of the national gun debate. That, though, doesn’t change the reality the NBA chose to partner with Bloomberg’s group, which was founded to compete with the NRA, and not with any number of other less political educational groups.
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