US basketball stars will speak out against gun violence in a television campaign beginning on Christmas that thrusts the National Basketball Association into one of the biggest controversies of American politics.
A 30-second public service announcement (PSA), unveiled on Wednesday, will be shown during games broadcast by the Walt Disney Co owned ABC and ESPN networks. It will feature Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers and Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls talking about personal experiences of gun violence.
The PSA, directed by filmmaker Spike Lee in partnership with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Everytown for Gun Control, walks a fine line, with pro athletes and average Americans saying, "In the United States, 88 people die of gun violence every day." Viewers are then urged to visit the website, "Everytown.WeCanEndGunViolence.org."
The words "gun control" do not occur in the spot, which does not call for specific policy changes.
Gun control is a hot-button topic in the United States, where the Second Amendment of the Constitution protects the right to bear arms. Efforts to push through national reforms to gun laws following mass shootings, including at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school and a Roseburg, Oregon, community college, have met firm resistance in the Republican-controlled Congress.
Sports marketing experts say, however, the NBA stars enjoy enough fan support and often carry sufficient "street cred" to risk taking on the topic.
"All over America people are tired of daily gun violence," said the Knicks' Anthony in an NBA statement. "Using my platform to speak out, I know we can keep guns out of the wrong hands and save lives."
The campaign follows similar socially conscious efforts by other major sports leagues, including the National Football League's campaign against domestic violence. The NFL's campaign was in part a response to repeated charges of domestic abuse against its players.
The NBA's anti-gun violence campaign could be more effective in reaching young fans than political efforts, sports experts said.
"Certainly the point of these ads is 'Don't use guns. Guns probably are going to create a bad result,'" said Michael Cramer, who teaches sports marketing and media at the University of Texas. "If you get enough people who are reached by that, the necessary next step is gun control legislation, which theoretically would have less opposition if you have more people in favor."
The ads could also help redirect the energy of young fans who admire the league's players and might be tempted by violence, said Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd, a Chicago-based sports business consulting firm.
"The players themselves are iconic within certain urban communities where there is gun violence," Ganis said. "It's not going to make a difference to gang bangers. But it might make a difference to the kids before they get into that life."
It is also not the first time the NBA has waded into political issues. Last year many of its biggest stars took to the court for warmups wearing T-shirts that read "I can't breathe," a reference to Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died at the hands of New York Police Department officers.
Garner's was one of a series of deaths that triggered protests across the United States. While that action was not directly organized by NBA officials, the league took no steps to block it.
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)