LeBron James says he doesn’t care if Trump shuns NBA over protests

By Marc Stein

LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers provided a pointed response Wednesday night to President Donald Trump’s criticism of players’ kneeling during the national anthem: The games will go on without you watching.

After Trump said earlier Wednesday that he regarded NBA players’ kneeling during the national anthem as “disgraceful” and vowed to stop watching games, James said that the basketball community was not “sad about losing his viewership.”

In a Wednesday morning telephone interview with Fox & Friends, Trump said he turned off NBA games “when I see people kneeling” and “disrespecting our flag and disrespecting our national anthem.” Asked about Trump’s comments after the Lakers’ 105-86 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder later in the day, James fired back.

“The game will go on without his eyes on it,” James said at his postgame news conference from the NBA’s so-called bubble at Walt Disney World in Florida. “I can sit here and speak for all of us that love the game of basketball: We could care less.”

The practice of teams lining up and kneeling during the national anthem to protest systemic racism and police brutality has become a standard feature of every game at the NBA restart since the league officially resumed its season July 30. There have been only a few exceptions; Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac, Miami’s Meyers Leonard, San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich and his assistant coach Becky Hammon have chosen to stand.

Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, said last week that he would not enforce the league’s rule — which dates to 1981 — mandating that players, coaches and team staff members line up and stand in a “dignified” posture for the playing of the national anthem before every game.

“I respect our teams’ unified act of peaceful protest for social justice, and under these unique circumstances will not enforce our long-standing rule,” Silver said.

Trump tweeted last month that he would turn off games if players knelt, then broadened his criticism in Wednesday’s Fox & Friends interview.

“It’s not acceptable to me,” Trump said, expressing disappointment because the White House, he said, worked “very hard” with the NBA to help the league reboot after the season was suspended March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“When I see them kneeling, I just turn off the game,” Trump said. “I have no interest in the game.”

Trump has often criticized athletes for kneeling during the anthem in what is broadly seen as a strategy to appeal to his political base. In 2017, Trump urged NFL team owners to fire anyone who would not stand for the anthem. In June, he said he would not watch the NFL if players continued to kneel.

James had criticized Trump before, calling him “U bum” in a 2017 tweet in which he said it had been “a great honor” to go to the White House — a tradition for champion sports teams — until Trump took office.

In Wednesday’s Fox interview, Trump said that no president had done more for Black people than he had — “with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln.” When told of those comments, James said: “You trying to make me laugh right now? I appreciate that.”

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