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How NBA voting arenas combated voter suppression, upheld democracy

NBA voting arenas being opened and accessible to marginalized communities may have been the reason Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 presidential election.

Specifically in large cities in key battleground states such as Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, and Phoenix, NBA voting arenas served as a safe haven for people (largely BIPOC) to vote, and combated voter suppression that permeates throughout much of America.


The NBA bubble’s stoppage

When the Milwaukee Bucks decided to protest an NBA playoff game against the Orlando Magic over the shooting of Jacob Blake, questions surfaced even among players as to what could be done to make real change.

A phone call between Former President Barack Obama, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony not only saved the season, but also set in place a concrete plan of action. 

President Obama advised players to use their platform to impact real change. The season continued, but only because the league and its players committed to increase access to voting and advocating for social change. Players were concerned that playing games was taking attention away from larger social issues. 

Together, the NBA formed a plan to get people to vote. Players wore shirts and masks that said vote on them. Players used social media and press conferences to bring attention to election day. They tried to get as many people registered to vote as possible, and made sure NBA voting arenas were ready for the large influx of voters.  They spoke out louder than they ever have this past season on the topic of voting. 


NBA voting arenas

The NBA also did its part with 23 out of the 30 teams turning their arenas into polling centers. There were some complications as some arenas are not privately owned, but overall having arenas open as voting sites when they otherwise would have just been empty, helped to fight voter suppression

NBA voting centers were in the middle of crucial cities in battleground states. Atlanta’s State Farm Arena was used as a place people could vote and where poll workers counted votes. The Detroit Pistons used their training facility as a poll site. Atlanta and Detroit were two cities that saw huge voter turnout and were key in helping Joe Biden win the election. 


Grassroots organizations playing a part

More Than A Vote, an organization founded by LeBron James, helped to coordinate a lot of the work done by the NBA. The organization helped recruit poll workers while also helping to fight misinformation. More Than A Vote signed up over 40,000 poll workers and also offered free rides to polling centers. 

Rally The Vote, the first team-led, nonpartisan voter registration coalition made up of 20 NBA, NFL, MLB, MLS, WNBA, and NWSL franchises, also made large strides in getting people to the polls.

NBA players also stepped up in terms of registering themselves to vote. Only 22% of players reportedly voted in 2016. In 2020, 96% of all players were registered to vote. Chris Paul, for example, got the entire Thunder team registered to vote. 

It’s impossible to know the exact numbers the NBA affected with the election this year, but there’s no doubt that the NBA did its part in getting people to vote. And making it accessible to thousands of people who otherwise may not have voted. The NBA has a powerful platform and it used its voice to make real change.

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