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NBA stars opened the ESPYs with a powerful message about violence in America

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The NBA's biggest names aren't shying away from the national discussion about gun violence and other social issues.

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With many of the biggest names in the sports world gathered for the ESPYs on Wednesday night, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony opened the show on stage with an important message about the role they want athletes to take in supporting social issues in America.

The four NBA superstars, all donned in black suits, began the night by taking several minutes to speak directly to the audience at Microsoft Theater about getting involved in issues like gun violence, racial injustice, police brutality and others that impact Americans every day.

Paul directly referenced many black men who have been killed by police in recent years, including Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, whose deaths in police shootings led to protests in communities across the country earlier this month. One of those places was Dallas, where five police offers were killed during a protest by a man who said he wanted to target officers in retaliation.

"Let's use this moment as a call to action for all professional athletes to educate ourselves, explore these issues, speak up, use our influence and renounce all violence," LeBron said. "And most importantly, go back to our communities, invest our time, our resources, help rebuild them, help strengthen them, help change them. We all have to do better."

The NBA stars said it's time to follow in the steps of other great athletes like Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, John Carlos and Tommie Smith in making their voices heard on a number of issues. In the past, James and other NBA players wore shirts that said "I Can't Breathe" in reference to the final words of Eric Garner, a man who was killed in a choke hold by a police officer in 2014.

So this isn't the first time NBA stars have spoken out about these issues, and it won't be the last, either. These four stars are trying to embrace their roles as public figures in the same way Ali, Robinson and others did, and they're hoping that more top athletes will join them.

"As athletes, it's on us to challenge each other to do even more than what we already do in our own communities and a conversation cannot stop as our schedules get busy again," Wade said. "It won't always be convenient, it won't always be comfortable, but it is necessary."