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Former President Barack Obama to hold 'fireside chat' with NBA stars, days after protest related to his proposed presidential center

Lolly Bowean, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Basketball

CHICAGO -- As dozens of famous NBA basketball players arrive in Chicago for All-Star Weekend, former President Barack Obama will be joining them, officials with the Obama Foundation announced.

The night before the big game, Obama is scheduled to sit in conversation for what is being called a "fireside chat" with three of the league's biggest stars: Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love and Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Chris Paul.

ESPN sports commentator and former Washington Post writer Michael Wilbon also will be a part of the conversation, the foundation's announcement says.

Obama's event comes just days after protesters staged a sit-in at City Hall demanding a meeting with Mayor Lori Lightfoot to discuss ways to protect lower-income residents who live near the site of the Obama Presidential Center from displacement.

The mayor has found herself in the middle of a disagreement between South Side residents who have long been pushing for a community benefits agreement -- a binding contract that would guarantee certain amenities such as jobs, the creation of neighborhood assets and affordable housing -- and those who say such an agreement would threaten development in low-income communities that need it the most.

Before targeting the mayor with their demands, activists with the CBA Coalition appealed to Obama for an iron-clad legal contract that would guarantee such things as property tax breaks, a rental assistance fund and librarians at nearby public schools. But Obama said because his project isn't a profit-making venture, a CBA isn't the right tool for it.

On Thursday, officials with the foundation would not say how many people will be in the audience or where the event will take place. They also wouldn't say if Obama, himself an avid player, would pick up a basketball at any time during the 90-minute gathering.

"President Obama looks forward to talking with Giannis, Kevin, Chris, and Michael about one of the themes that has driven his career and now us here at the Obama Foundation: the importance of people engaging in their community to make a positive impact," an Obama Foundation spokeswoman said in an email. "It's exciting to have the spotlight on Chicago this weekend, and we're excited to help showcase this work in the city we love and where the Obama Presidential Center will come to life."

From the time he was elected to the U.S. Senate, Obama made known to the public his infatuation with basketball. While serving in the White House, he was known for his pickup games with staff members, some of whom were former college players.

 

Obama's chat will be attended by a hand-selected group of leaders who participate in the foundation's many programs, such as the Obama Foundation Fellows and Obama Scholars.

The Obama Foundation, among other things, is charged with developing the presidential center campus in Jackson Park. The sprawling complex will have a museum, meeting spaces for large public events, a public library branch and offices for the foundation staff. The site will be surrounded with greenery and outdoor meeting spaces. It will also have an athletic center with basketball courts. The project has gained approval from the City Council, but has faced opposition from environmentalists who continue to push for it to be moved elsewhere.

Currently, the project is undergoing a federal review process, which has to be completed before developers can break ground. The foundation has not released a new timeline for when construction is expected to start or end.

Obama's public visit this weekend will be his first since he and his wife appeared at their annual Obama Foundation Summit in October.

(c)2020 Chicago Tribune

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