MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- After talking to an angered Masai Ujiri, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said President Donald Trump's reportedly vulgar comment on immigration "is discouraging" but will not deter the work of the NBA and NBPA in creating real change in communities.
"I certainly understand how upset he is as an immigrant to this country and Canada," Silver told ESPN when asked about the Toronto Raptors president and some other players being extremely upset with President Trump's controversial comments reported by multiple outlets last week. "I think for him, someone who does so much in his daily life to improve the life of Africans through his personal foundation, through our Basketball Without Borders program, it is discouraging. But Masai will not in any way be deterred from the work he is doing just as the league won't be."
Silver spoke with the Nigerian-born executive, who angrily responded to President Trump's disparaging comments in speaking to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski on Friday. President Trump told reporters that he is not a racist when asked Sunday for his response to the multiple reports last week about the disparaging comments.
"No. No, I am not a racist,'' President Trump told reporters on Sunday. "I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed. That I can tell you.''
After taking an emotional tour of the National Civil Rights Museum with National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Silver was asked about how the Trump controversy struck a nerve with Ujiri and others in the NBA, such as Golden State's David West. Silver also said that the 50th anniversary of King's death is "an impetus to continue pushing forward" toward impacting social injustice.
Silver and Roberts are in Memphis for a series of events on the weekend to honor King's legacy. This is the latest show of the combined efforts between the NBA and NBPA to help NBA players and teams build stronger and safer communities.
The two leaders toured the National Civil Rights Museum with Memphis' Mike Conley and the Lakers' Brook Lopez and will deliver opening remarks at a discussion panel and a symposium this weekend hosted by the Grizzlies. Lakers primary owner Jeanie Buss also joined Silver and Roberts this weekend. The emotional tour left Silver and Roberts feeling more committed to aiding players trying to make a difference in communities with youth and city officials and law enforcement.
"I think for both Michele and me, it is a reminder and an impetus to continue pushing forward with the kind of things that we can do together as a league," Silver said. "Sports continue to be a unique opportunity to unite people, and it is a place where there is a rare sense of equality. Certainly, we are proud that within the NBA, you are judged by your performance on the floor, regardless of your background, nationality or ethnicity. ... To me, it is also reinforcement of how important it is that we stay the course in terms of the programs that this league has been operating for decades and new programs like NBA Voices that we are beginning this week."
"I tend to be an optimist," Silver also said. "Certainly, as I am reminded of the history of this country, much of it which took place during my lifetime, there has been tremendous progress, there is no question about it. Having said that, we have a long way to go."
Since LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade stood onstage at the ESPYS in July 2016 and encouraged athletes to become more active to promote social change, the NBA and its players and teams organized or participated in 222 programs, events and initiatives spanning 26 cities through Dec. 8, 2017. There have been more than 40,000 new mentor signups, and more than 10,000 youth and law enforcement officers have been brought together around the country.
On Monday and on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the NBA will launch a new initiative called NBA Voices and a new interactive webpage, voices.nba.com, to address social injustice and promote inclusion, diversity and equality.
"Since our players stood up and in essence there was a call to action by the NBA family, we are incredibly proud that we have executed over 200 events in communities around the country in every NBA city," said Silver, who along with Roberts sent a letter to the players before the season offering support for their efforts to build stronger and safer communities. "With the case of NBA Voices, we recognize that access to that platform was important to our fans. It was really in response to our fans saying to us, Where do we go to learn more about what it is that you are doing, and what we can do?"
"We embrace the opportunity to experience the rich history of Memphis and the National Civil Rights Museum," Roberts said in a statement on Monday. "It is our obligation to understand and learn from the past so that we may move forward as a society. This weekend especially we encourage our players to stop and reflect on the tremendous sacrifices of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and all those who contributed to the civil rights movement in America. Without these leaders, today's NBA would not be possible. This visit reminds us to remain committed to racial equality today and every day."
Before Silver and Roberts walked through the museum at the Lorraine Motel, the Lakers took a guided tour that left a deep impression on several players. Players such as rookie Kyle Kuzma spent more than an hour reading much of the historical facts about the civil rights movement.
"Man, you've got to be happy, we play basketball for a living, and these people are getting beat and kicked and spit on," Lakers veteran Corey Brewer said of what message he wanted his younger teammates to get from the tour. "It's a strange time for sure right now. We think about some of the stuff that's happening right now, and you think about what's happened in the past, it's kind of similar to be honest. The Mike Brown [shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, that sparked protests], all the different stuff, it's just crazy. It's heartfelt stuff. You see what [those who were part of the civil rights movement] went through, and now we play in the NBA for millions of dollars."
Silver found himself talking to Roberts about the emotions they were feeling as they toured the museum at the Lorraine Motel.
"There is symbolism of us being here together with the Lakers and Grizzlies organizations," Silver said. "With all that is going on in our country and the world, it is a reminder to us that we can be such a force for good, both positive messages and actions for a diverse group of fans and people and where in the modern NBA, not just in terms of diversity and race but diversity of ethnicity and nationality in a league that is 25 percent non-American.
"I think as she and I were walking together and reading the words of Martin Luther King and the concept behind the movement, it makes us that much more aware here in 2018 of how much we can still contribute to ensuring that those weren't just words but that there are opportunities for our players and our teams to continue doing those things that are critically important in society moving forward."