At the 2016 ESPYs, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Others Take a Stand for Black Lives

In a poignant and sobering opening to the ESPY Awards ceremony Wednesday night, four of the NBA's biggest names spoke out against gun violence and police brutality in the U.S. And their timing was spot-on — communities around the country have been reeling from police shooting deaths of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, as well as the deaths of five police officers in Dallas last week.

In calling for an end to racial profiling, an end to street gang warfare and the enactment of criminal justice reforms, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James delivered what is arguably the boldest political statement by African-American professional athletes in a generation. Their words came on the same day that several black, white and Latino musicians and actors partnered with Mic to make a similar call for change.

Anthony kicked off ABC's ESPY Awards broadcast by laying out the scope of the problem.

Paul then acknowledged that athletes have a responsibility to help bring about the needed changes.

Next, Wade spoke directly to law enforcement and communities of color about the toll that racial profiling and senseless violence has wrought.

James closed the statement by urging all involved to move beyond feeling "helpless and frustrated by the violence" and seek change.

In his portion of the statement, Paul name-checked some of the black men and boys who have fallen to police-involved shootings and acts of vigilantism over the last several years. "Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile. This is also our reality," he said, according to USA Today.

The athletes' statement was also a tribute to African-American sports icons who led the charge for social change in the 1960s and 1970s. Boxing icon Muhammad Ali, whose death in June sparked countless memorials, spoke boldly about inequality, racism and war at the height of his professional career.

His stance inspired activism from the likes of NBA and NFL icons Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jim Brown, among others. Before Ali's draft-dodging trial over his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War, a group of top black athletes met in 1976 and agreed to rally around Ali in what has become known as the Cleveland Summit.

It's unclear how and when Anthony, Paul, Wade and James agreed to make the joint statement at the ESPYs ceremony. But their bold move inspired many who watched Wednesday night's broadcast, including former President Bill Clinton and former Attorney General Eric Holder.

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