Since President Donald Trump disinvited the Philadelphia Eagles from their White House visit on Monday, roughly eight months after disinviting the Golden State Warriors this past September, the subject arose during media availability between Games 2 and 3 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday.
The response from Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, who has called Trump a “bum” who “doesn’t even care” about race relations in America, was as you might expect: He wouldn’t want to visit the White House anyway, and he doesn’t think anybody else still playing would want to, either.
Ditto for Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, who has called Trump an asset without the “et”:
Few Eagles and Warriors, if any, planned on visiting Trump’s White House even before he rescinded their invitations. This time around, the NBA is RSVP’ing before he has a chance to disinvite them.
Even though it’s practically a given at this point, it should be a bigger deal that nobody on the best two teams in the NBA wants to visit the White House, because players, coaches and executives believe the president’s rhetoric espouses racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. The White House visit was once a rite of passage for NBA champions. Now it’s a joke. This seems like it should be discussed.
The Warriors oppose Donald Trump’s divisiveness
As soon as the Warriors won the 2017 NBA title, we wondered if they would attend the White House while Trump was in office, because coach Steve Kerr had called the president “a blowhard” who “routinely used racist, misogynist, insulting words” and signed “horrible” immigration policy into law.
Warriors players followed suit, similarly criticizing the president’s rhetoric and conduct throughout last season. Either before or after winning the championship, Curry, Kevin Durant, Shaun Livingston, David West and Andre Iguodala were all on record saying they did not want to visit the White House.
Even still, the Warriors were considering a visit “out of respect for the office” in June, and as late as September the organization was having backchannel discussions with the White House before a planned meeting to discuss the decision as a team. Kerr later revealed the final straw for the Warriors was when Trump referred to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a “son of a bitch” who deserved to be fired in late September. Kerr extrapolated on CNN this past November:
“This is another reason why all of us on our team have a tough time with the president, because instead of unifying and trying to calm the storm, he’s creating it, over and over again,” Kerr told CNN’s David Axelrod. “We see it with his tweets every day. He used the words ‘sons of b****es’ to talk about NFL players who have made it clear they’re protesting racial inequality and police brutality,. Those are sons of b****es? Really? You’re the President of the United States and you’re going to call them sons of b****es? And you’re going to call Kaepernick out for non-violent protests, a staple of American democracy? That’s really hard to deal with. And for me that was probably the hardest one to deal with. The personal slights that we’ve seen from Trump, you sort of get used to it after a while, you get numb to it, but that one really stung, because it was so divisive and it was so angry and it just didn’t make sense.”
The morning after that rally, Trump rescinded his White House invitation, citing Curry’s “I don’t want to go” statement as reason for becoming the first president in some time to not host the NBA champions:
Now, we’re back where we were eight months ago, with Trump disinviting the Eagles. The president continues to argue that athletes kneel during the national anthem to disrespect the flag. In reality, they are trying to get people like him to acknowledge racial injustice in this country. This is what gets lost in the discussion of White House invites. But know this: Either Trump refuses to acknowledge racial injustice or he’s actively trying to discredit it. Those are the only two sides left of this coin.
Either way, Curry saw right through him in a November Players’ Tribune essay on the subject:
But when someone tells me that my stances, or athlete stances in general, are “disrespecting the military” — which has become a popular thing to accuse peaceful protestors of — it’s something that I’m going to take very, very seriously. One of the beliefs that I hold most dear is how proud I am to be an American — and how incredibly thankful I am for our troops. I know how fortunate I am to live in this country, and to do what I do for a living, and to raise my daughters in peace and prosperity. But I also hear from plenty of people who don’t have it nearly as good as I do. Plenty of people who are genuinely struggling in this country. Especially our veterans.
And every single veteran I’ve spoken to, they’ve all said pretty much the exact same thing: That this conversation we’ve started to have in the world of sports … whether it’s been Colin kneeling, or entire NFL teams finding their own ways to show unity, or me saying that I didn’t want to go to the White House — it’s the opposite of disrespectful to them.
A lot of them have said, that even if they don’t totally agree with every position of every person, this is exactly the thing that they fought to preserve: the freedom of every American to express our struggles, our fears, our frustrations, and our dreams for a more equal society.
And Durant still sees the administration’s political grandstanding for what it really is now:
LeBron James called the president a ‘bum’
It was also Trump’s disinvite of the Warriors that brought LeBron James into this mix. He and countless other NBA stars leapt to Curry’s defense, and his tweet directed at Trump sent shockwaves through the national media. The most high-profile athlete in America called the president a “bum” on Twitter.
Curry thanked James for coming to his defense at the time:
“That’s a pretty strong statement,” Curry said. “I think it’s bold, it’s courageous for any guy to speak up, let alone a guy that has as much to lose as LeBron does and other notable figures in the league. We all have to kind of stand as one the best we can. For me, the questions how things have gone all summer if I wanted to go to the White House or not, I told you yesterday being very transparent what my vote would have been in a meeting had we had one, based on just trying to let people know I didn’t want to be applauded for an accomplishment on the court when the guy that would be doing the patting on the back is somebody I don’t think respects the majority of Americans in this country.”
James then spent much of his preseason media day session criticizing Trump for many of the same reasons the Warriors had already put on record, suggesting the president cares not for race relations.
“He doesn’t understand the power that he has for being the leader of this beautiful country. 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. …
“Being the president of the United States is the most powerful position in the world. It’s the most powerful position in the world, and we are at a time where the most powerful position in the world has an opportunity to bring us closer together as a people and inspire the youth and put the youth at ease, saying that it is OK for me to walk down the street and not be judged because of the color of my skin or because of my race, and he has no recollection of that and he doesn’t even care.”
This reflected what James had already said in an Uninterrupted video about the president dividing the country by fanning the flames of racial tension following an alt-right march in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The criticism didn’t end there. James and Durant, who is on record saying, “I don’t respect who’s in office right now,” jointly appeared with host Cari Champion in a video lambasting Trump in February:
James: “The climate is hot. The No. 1 job in America, the appointed person is someone who doesn’t understand the people and really don’t give a f*** about the people. When I was growing up, there were three jobs that you looked to for inspiration or you felt like these were the people that could give me life: It was the President of the United States, it was whoever was the best in sports, and then it was like the greatest musician at the time. You never thought you could be them, but you can grab inspiration from them. If there was a neighborhood African-American cop, and he was cool as hell coming around, I felt like I could be him. I never felt like I could be the President of the United States, but I grabbed inspiration from that. At this time right now, with the President of the United States, it’s a bad time, and while we cannot change what comes out of that man’s mouth, we can continue to alert the people who watch us, that listen to us, that this is not the way.”
Durant: “When we’re talking about leadership and what’s going on in our country, it’s all about leadership, and I learned that playing basketball. I learned a lot of life skills from playing basketball. You need to empower people, you need to encourage people, and that’s what builds a great team. And I feel like our team as a country is not run by a great coach.”
James: “It’s not even a surprise when he says something. It’s laughable.”
Champion: “It’s laughable, but it’s also scary, because I shouldn’t be numb to your racist comments.”
The president, meanwhile, maintains that the Warriors’ invite was withdrawn because Curry was “hesitating” and the Eagles were disinvited because they don’t respect the country’s military, all statements made to mask this fact: NBA and NFL players, the majority of whom are black, do not want to visit the White House because they believe Trump is furthering the racial divide in America.
Even if you don’t agree with them or their First Amendment right to kneel during the national anthem to oppose racial inequality, ask yourself this: Why are so many of the country’s most high-profile black men so disgusted with the president that they can’t bring themselves to visit the White House? It’s not because of a flag or a song. It’s because they representation from the President of the United States.
That should be a bigger deal to everyone in this country, even if most of us saw this coming.