President Biden welcomed the reigning NBA champions, the Milwaukee Bucks, to the White House on Monday, making them the first NBA champions to visit since 2016.
"In sport and in a democracy, unity perhaps is the most elusive thing and the most necessary thing," Biden said. "But that's who this team is, they're unified. That's who we are as a nation."
Biden praised the "power of a team's example in not just winning the title," adding that players "took a stand for justice and peace in the wake of Jacob Blake's shooting in Kenosha, Wis."
Last year, the Bucks were the first professional sports team to refuse to play a game in protest over Blake's shooting and other racial justice issues, leading to a wave of game cancellations starting in late August 2020 in basketball and baseball.
Bucks point guard George Hill said at the time: "We're tired of the killings and the injustice."
At the White House on Monday, Biden also commended the team motivating people to vote and to be involved in the political process. "You encouraged fans to get vaccinated," Biden said. "I just want to thank you."
The first NBA champions to visit the White House were the Boston Celtics in 1963, though according to one account they were touring the building and a meeting with President John F. Kennedy came as a surprise.
Visits of champion sports teams in football, basketball, baseball and hockey have become a common occurrence in the years since.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were the last NBA champions to visit the White House, meeting President Barack Obama in November 2016.
The 2017 champions, the Golden State Warriors, were disinvited by President Donald Trump after star Stephen Curry and others with the team said they did not want to go. This followed Trump's comments after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and Curry saying that "we won't stand for" some of what Trump had said.
The Warriors won the championship again in 2018. They traveled to Washington, D.C., in January 2019 — but met with Obama instead.
The Toronto Raptors had already ruled out going to the White House before an invitation had been extended, with Raptors player Danny Green saying it was a "hard no" after their 2019 championship win.
And the Los Angeles Lakers, who won the 2020 championship, said they were not visiting President Biden back in April of this year because of coronavirus protocols and scheduling limitations.
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