By JON SCHOLOSBERG and LINSEY DAVIS, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — With under three weeks until the election, NBA superstars are using the sport to amplify their voices and harnessing the power of their platforms to inspire change with an unprecedented get-out-the vote effort.
“If we want change we need to make it ourselves,” Los Angeles Laker Lebron James said.
“As you’re educated more your vote matters, your voice matters, and the platform that I have now I have to use it,” Toronto Raptor Kyle Lowry told ABC News.
“We’re not just athletes you know, we’re also men and fathers and husbands and sons, and we have the opportunity to change the world, why not use that opportunity,” Lowry told ABC News.
Only 22% of NBA players voted in the 2016 election, according to the NBA Player’s Association
“I just know that our players; we’re not different from a lot of people that just didn’t show up. I think what was clear, though, is for a lot of us, we realize that that’s not something that we can take for granted,” executive director of the NBAP Foundation Sherrie Deans told ABC News, who is working with the NBA players union to get more of the athletes to vote.
Their effort is getting results. Throughout the league, voter registration is now 96%, and 20 teams including Lowry’s Raptors are at 100% registration, the NBA Players Association told ABC News.
In 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 64% of the U.S. population registered to vote, and only 56% of Americans voted.
Orlando Magic Forward Mo Bamba was one of the 44% who sat out the election four years ago.
“I didn’t vote in 2016 because I didn’t see the importance of voting … when you’re around adults who say things like you know it doesn’t really matter who, you know doesn’t really matter, my vote is not going to count, you know that really sticks with you,” Bamba told ABC News.
Bamba said he is working to make sure his teammates and his central Florida community don’t make the same mistake.
“I just might get ‘vote’ tattooed on my forehead at this point,” he said.
Bamba grew up in a tough Harlem neighborhood in New York City, and said that for him, it’s always been about priorities.
He said he recognized as a teenager that some of his friends were going down the wrong path.
“In a way, you have to decide to be a man … I saw that I didn’t really want that for myself, I saw that I wanted something better,” Bamba said.
The Harlem native said his dreams felt more attainable after he watched Barack Obama elected president in 2008.
Bamba, just a fifth grader at the time, wrote a letter to President Obama along with his classmates.
“I was so happy that history was made. Not so many times you wake up with an African American president. My family, friends and teachers were so happy and my principal cried. President Obama, you encourage me and all of America to follow their dreams. We could be anything. You opened a door to everyone,” the letter read, in part.
While some of his friends started getting in trouble, Bamba asked to go to boarding school, where he thrived, both in the classroom and on the court.
“I’m a firm believer that people are not a product of their environment that they’re a product of their beliefs,” he said.
On election day, at 7 feet, one inch tall, Bamba may likely be the nation’s tallest poll worker.
Bamba said he signed up as a poll worker to show he’s not just talking about change, he’s setting an example. “The biggest thing for me was putting my money where my mouth was,” Bamba said.
On Nov. 3, the NBA says at least 20 NBA arenas will welcome voters instead of fans.
Bamba will be one of the thousands of first-time poll workers recruited by Lebron James’ ‘More Than a Vote’ initiative.
During the NBA finals, President Obama backed the NBA’s get out the vote effort and thanked the brave volunteers, “I wanted to come to give a shout out to all the folks who are volunteering as poll workers in this upcoming election,” Obama said during game one of this year’s NBA finals.
For Kyle Lowry, and many of his fellow athletes, seeing Jacob Blake shot on Aug. 23 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, reminded them of why they decided to come back and play.
MORE: Probe of Jacob Blake police shooting in final stages, says Wisconsin AG
“I feel like our league was one of the most influential leagues there is… when that shooting happened … everyone was like, ‘what the hell… we just have been through this’,” Lowry said.
He said the outcome was that the players decided to use their voices and their platforms to push for change.
A change, these players hope will play out long after the championship champagne celebrations, and far beyond the hardwood.
” I wouldn’t have thought for a million years that I would have the platform I do now and. And that I’ll be, you know speaking on issues such as voting,” Bamba said.
Tune in at 7 p.m Wednesday on ABCNL Prime with Linsey Davis for full report. ABCNL is available on Hulu, YouTube, Roku, Apple TV and more.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.