After a year in which the NBA fraternity was more politically
involved than ever, several key figures are speaking out about what
has transpired in Georgia.
Last month, state lawmakers overhauled existing election
protocols with the passage of a controversial law that includes
restrictions that some activists say are reminiscent of the
Supporters of the law have argued that the changes
will restore voters'
confidence in the election process and make elections more secure.
However, civil-rights advocates say that the restrictions are
aimed at voter suppression, and
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr agrees.
“It’s bullsh**,” Kerr told BasketballNews.com in a phone
interview. “In the past, it was whether you could count how many
beans are in a bowl or a literacy test. Now, it is more
sophisticated and subtle. [It's a new way of saying], ‘Let’s keep
black people away from the polls.’ It’s obvious, and now that I’m
talking about it, I’m all worked up about it.”
Over the last year, many NBA figures have tried to affect change
with their words and actions, including Kerr, Philadelphia 76ers
head coach Doc Rivers, former Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd
Pierce, Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul and Denver Nuggets
forward Paul Millsap among others. Pierce encouraged Georgians to
vote and even volunteered as a poll worker at
State Farm Arena in Atlanta. Millsap owns a 44,000-square-foot
training facility in Georgia’s DeKalb County, and he turned it into
an early polling location where 15,237 Georgia residents voted,
according to The Washington Post.
“The new laws in Georgia are not about fraud; they are about
turnout,” Kerr said. “There is no evidence of fraud. This is all
Basketball Hall-of-Famer and Turner Sports analyst Charles
Barkley echoed this sentiment.
“I go to Atlanta every week, so I see this stuff,” Barkley told
BasketballNews.com in a phone interview. “And when you think
about it, it’s crazy: John Lewis died not that long ago, and he was
fighting for voting rights in the black community 60 years ago.
Now, it’s 2021 and we’re still fighting the same fight.”
Pierce has not said much publicly since being dismissed by the
Hawks on March 1, 2021. But when he heard that BasketballNews.com
wanted to speak with him about what is happening in Georgia, he
“I am still working with Doc and the Black Male Voter Project,”
said Pierce, who’s a member of the National Basketball Social
Justice Coalition and chairman of the nine-member NBA Coaches for
Racial Justice committee. “The year 2020 taught us that the
confrontation of reality is necessary. You have to confront it, and
it is not a quick fix.
“Last summer, when the other teams were in the bubble, this
became a mandate from the league and the other teams: Become
aggressive. So from there, we did a lot of work pertaining to voter
registration groups, LeBron’s ‘More Than a Vote’ campaign, along
with NBA coaches, football players, baseball players and other
“More Than a Vote,” a voting rights group that was launched by
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, ran ads in
Georgia to promote voting, provided rides to the polls and
“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 made it easier to vote. This bill
makes it harder,” Pierce added. “It is a reaction to losing, and
it’s targeted at specific groups. The people standing in long lines
to vote in Fulton County are people of color, and this bill bans
bringing elderly people a bottle of water.”
According to USA Today, Senate Bill 202 was signed by Gov.
Brian Kemp on March 31. Certain provisions will go into effect on
- Special ballots will be created for nonpartisan elections.
- Ballots must be printed in black and white ink on security
- A cutoff date of 11 days before a primary, general election or
runoff election for mail-in ballot applications.
- A deadline for the issuance of absentee ballots at least 25
days before a federal primary, general election or special election
or 22 days before a municipal general election or primary.
- A Georgia state driver's license number, ID card number, date
of birth and the last four digits of a social security number
or another approved form of identification must be printed on the
outside of an absentee ballot.
- New conditions for rejecting absentee ballots if certain
requirements are not met.
Offering money and gifts – including food or drink – to a voter
is prohibited, but poll officers are permitted to distribute
materials encouraging voter participation as required by law and
may also make self-service water available to voters.
Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball
Players Association, noted that “the legislation that passed is god
awful, but thanks to the work by those who pushed back, some
(though not all) of the more offensive provisions were removed,
e.g. [banning] 'souls to the polls.'"
The election reforms came after U.S. President Joe Biden
defeated Donald Trump by 11,779 votes in Georgia in last year's
general election. Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff also won
two Senate runoff elections in January, which gave control of the
U.S. Senate to the Democratic Party.
Biden called the law “un-American” and described it as a
"blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience." Trump
also slammed the bill, but he deemed the measure “too weak.”
What has happened since has made America more divided instead of
As a practical matter, Kemp’s signature has undone all the work
that Pierce and other NBA figures put in with the assistance of
Stacey Abrams, a Democratic Party leader in Georgia who knew how to
make the necessary changes to open up more voting stations and
polling places in minority neighborhoods. Bill 202 called for a
reduction in ballot drop boxes and other changes that would have
the heaviest impact in the state’s largest counties, including
Fulton County (which includes the city of Atlanta), where people
wanted in line for several hours to vote.
“There needs to be a new plan,” Pierce says, “so that people are
not afraid to vote as an act of protest.”