“Nobody gets to do this from where I’m from, barely get to do it from the United States,” Brown said. “For me to be one of them, I can definitely take this and hold this and let people know I’m out here doing this to make a change, to actually get things put on other people’s minds that have influence, to a degree.”
Belinelli, a member of the San Antonio Spurs, was the only player able to speak in Italian to the pope.
More players had expressed interest in making the trip but could not because of the complications of travel in the pandemic and the holiday week. Free agency is also continuing. Training camps begin next week. “If we had more time, I would have 50 guys,” Roberts said.
The traveling party underwent a diagnostic test for the new coronavirus within 72 hours of leaving for Rome. The players had also been tested frequently in their home markets and, outside of Belinelli, who was in Italy, traveled on a chartered flight. All will be retested once back in the United States.
Pictures of the meeting depicted the group and Pope Francis without masks; the pontiff, who sat at a distance from the group, has been known to forgo them in indoor meetings. The players had masks on by the time they were taking video calls.
The players who attended described the decision to meet the pope as an easy one. “You say pope and being able to fly to Rome, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so why not take it?” said Isaac, who paused his rehabilitation from a torn A.C.L. to take part, while Brown agreed to a free-agent deal with the Houston Rockets only a few hours before departing.
“This visit is the kind of thing that gives you, I believe, the sense of confirmation that the work that you’re doing is making a difference,” Roberts said. “The confirmation comes from someone whose life is spent giving of himself to others, saying what you’re doing is exactly what you should be doing and I encourage you to keep doing it.”