LeBron James is not backing down on his comments about President Donald Trump, and countless other players and coaches in the NBA made it clear at media days around the league Monday that they are equally fed up with what could perhaps be described as a pattern of actions from the White House that they would call divisive or worse.
Politics were the storyline of the NBA on the first official business day of the season for most of the league’s clubs. That was no surprise, given the events of a weekend that included Trump rescinding the champion Golden State Warriors’ invitation to the White House, James calling the president a “bum” and stars like union president Chris Paul speaking out in frustration.
“We know this is the greatest country in the world,” said James, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ star. “It’s the land of the free. But we still have problems just like everybody else and when we have those problems, we have to figure out a way how we come together and be as great as we can be as a people.
“Because the people run this country. Not one individual. And damn sure not him.”
These tensions have obviously been present for far more than one weekend, but they are bubbling now in the NBA like perhaps never before — with players in many cities Monday saying they were angered over the president’s use of the line “son of a bitch,” cited last week during a rant about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.
“You can’t get more insulting than that,” Phoenix center Tyson Chandler said.
Added Miami forward Udonis Haslem: “I don’t think President Trump wants to fight any of them defensive linemen or anybody in the NFL. Probably should just be respectful.”
James referred to Trump as “that guy,” and defended his decision to tweet that the president is a “bum” — a post that quickly became one of Twitter’s most-shared ever. The name-calling continued Monday: Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal said Trump is “a clown” and Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan said the president is a “so-called leader.”
“I think the president brought a lot of this stuff on himself,” said DeRozan, who is American but plays in Canada. “He brought it on himself, he brought it on us as a country. … I feel no player is trying to disrespect anybody, no flag or anything like that, but we seem to be the ones who get all the disrespect from our so-called leader.”
Trump’s comments about the NFL and NBA come at a time where the government has obvious concerns about matters involving North Korea, the pledge many Republicans made to repeal and replace health care legislation, with a tax overhaul plan looming and with Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico all dealing with crippling effects of hurricanes in recent weeks.
“We all have to come together,” Denver guard Jameer Nelson said. “Whether you voted for Trump or not — the world needs to be better. I don’t know. I don’t know what the right answer is. I don’t know what the wrong answer is. Nobody does. If we did, we wouldn’t be sitting here and talking about it.”
After deadly protests involving white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia last month, Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale has been actively trying to get Confederate symbols such as monuments removed from his city.
On Monday, Fizdale said it was Trump who is disrespecting military members, not athletes who protest in various ways.
“Look at what he’s doing with North Korea putting our troops in danger right now instigating a war,” Fizdale said. “You know how many troops we have in South Korea and Japan that’s in direct line with where this guy can fire missiles? Obviously the Gold Star family that lost their son … I can keep going on this, guys, you know that.
“So when we talk about disrespecting our military, people need to take a look back at who’s really disrespecting our military and who’s really honoring our military by exercising their rights.”
Media days in the NBA are a mixture of basketball-related interviews, photo sessions and some frivolity. At Heat media day, Goran Dragic — whose current contract is worth $85 million — talked about his decision to fly coach home from his native Slovenia. In Memphis, guards Mike Conley and Mario Chalmers gave hair-care tips. Coaches took questions en masse, sometimes even able to actually discuss the game.
But there were countless questions about politics and Trump as well.
“It’s like every time he opens his mouth, it’s like, ‘Oh, really?’” Haslem said. “When you think he can’t say anything like worse, he just kind of figures it out.”
In Denver, the Nuggets said they were forming a four-player committee to help bring collective ideas from the locker room to team officials for further discussion. In Miami, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he would talk to players about how they want to respond to social topics later this week at their training camp in Boca Raton, Florida.
“This is discourse that’s going on in every living room right now and this is our family. So we will have a discussion about it,” Spoelstra said. “It is such a polarizing topic right now that I think it’s healthy just for guys to express where they are on this right now and I know how the guys feel in the locker room. It’s exactly the same as the players in the other leagues and the other teams that you saw this weekend.”
Dealing with Trump-related matters may be particularly thorny in Orlando. Magic owner Rich DeVos’ daughter-in-law, Betsy DeVos, is the Education Secretary.
The Magic, like many teams, said they weren’t sure what the right answer is — or how they’ll speak out as a team about social issues this season.
“In all honesty, coming up with a quick answer would be doing a disservice to all of our fans and to the issue itself,” Magic President Jeff Weltman said. “This is something we need to evaluate, speak to our NBA peers about.”
Stars like James, Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony have spoken openly about the need for societial change in the past, and each of them are continuing to use their platforms now.
James made it clear that will continue.
“He doesn’t understand the power that he has for being the leader of this beautiful country,” James said of Trump. “He doesn’t understand how many kids, no matter the race, look up to the President of the United States for guidance, for leadership, for words of encouragement. He doesn’t understand that and that’s what makes me more sick than anything.”