October 12, 2017 at 5:30 AM
Until recently, the Trump SoHo hotel served as a kind of luxe clubhouse for NBA teams visiting New York.
At least 12 teams — more than a third of the league — had stayed there since it opened in 2010. The players loved it so much they became walking ads for the Trump brand: Superstar Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder praised the hotel in the press. Toronto Raptors all-star Kyle Lowry gave interviews on the lobby's couch. Then-Thunder forward Steve Novak tweeted about the $20 room-service lattes.
Now, it's not the same.
All but one of the 12 teams said they have stopped patronizing the Trump SoHo since Donald Trump launched his presidential bid in 2015, according to team officials. Among the latest to depart were the Raptors, Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards, who all dropped Trump SoHo this summer and made different arrangements for the upcoming season.
Another NBA team quit staying at Trump's hotel in downtown Chicago. And at least three National Hockey League teams and one Major League Baseball club have stopped frequenting Trump hotels in the same time, according to interviews with team officials.
Before Trump turned professional athletes into his political targets in recent weeks — jousting on Twitter with the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry and blasting football players for kneeling during the national anthem — he had been privately losing their teams' business. The trend has sapped his hotels of revenue and big league buzz, a survey of teams by The Washington Post found.
In all, The Post found that 17 teams from across the four major sports had stayed at Trump properties in recent years. Now, at least 16 are no longer customers.
"The president has seemingly made a point of dividing us as best he can," Warriors coach Steve Kerr told The Post in an interview this week, explaining the shift. His team quit using Trump SoHo in 2016. "He continually offends people, and so people don't want to stay at his hotel. It's pretty simple."
The Post reached out to all 123 teams in the four major U.S. sports leagues to find out how many men's teams are still Trump customers. A total of 106 responded. Not a single team confirmed its players stay at Trump properties.
Some of the teams that have left Trump hotels cited reasons outside politics. One, for instance, said it was difficult to get team buses in and out of Lower Manhattan.
The loss of pro sports clients at Trump's hotels is part of a larger trend at his businesses, which appear to be pulled in opposite directions by his polarizing presidency.
At properties that offer proximity to the president — such as his Washington hotel and the Mar-a-Lago Club where he stays in Florida — business seems to be strong.
But the Trump Organization has had customers bleed away from other locations, particularly those who eschew political controversy.
The Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the investment fund that owns Trump SoHo referred questions to Trump Organization officials.
In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed the idea that Trump's attacks on sports teams were connected to the loss of pro athletes as customers.
"The president has repeatedly said he doesn't care about his business, he cares about the country," Sanders wrote in an email. "The president's position on athletes standing for the National Anthem is about respecting the flag and the men and women of the military who sacrifice to defend it and nothing else."
Trump has given up leadership positions at his businesses. But he still owns them through a trust controlled by his eldest sons. That means he still can take profits from properties such as the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, which his company owns, and Trump SoHo, from which he draws fees. Trump's business receives 5.75 percent of that hotel's operating revenue, according to company documents posted online by Reuters.
Before Trump ran for office, The Post found, at least three of the four major U.S. sports provided his properties with regular business. The exception was football: The Post could not identify any National Football League teams that stayed at Trump hotels, although five NFL teams declined to comment and seven did not respond to repeated inquiries. NFL teams typically do not stay at luxury hotels.
The majority of Trump's pro sports customers came from the National Basketball Association.
And the bulk of those clients stayed at Trump SoHo. The hotel in Lower Manhattan is convenient to both Madison Square Garden, where the New York Knicks play in midtown, and to Barclays Center, the home of the Brooklyn Nets.
For Trump's business, those visits meant money. Teams paid about $20,000 per night for rooms and food, according to one team official's estimate.
It also meant a connection to the NBA brand and the luxury cool that accompanies superstars on the road.
"When I stay here in New York, I'm at the Trump SoHo," Russell Westbrook told GQ in 2014, saying the hotel's lobby had inspired his fashion designs. ". . . Inside the hotel they have, like, a bunch of gold in the middle of the hotel, and I see how colors go together."
In April 2016, ESPN writer Kevin Arnovitz said he had interviewed 40 NBA players and staffers to come up with a list of the NBA's favorite hotels. Trump Soho was the top one in New York, Arnovitz wrote.
The frequent presence of the NBA players was noted by other customers.
"Btw, the Trailblazers were there when we checked in," one guest at the hotel posted in a TripAdvisor review in April 2015, "and the Indiana Pacers team were there the day before we checked-out."
In 2016, a Trump SoHo ballroom was cited as the scene of a season-changing moment for the Cleveland Cavaliers. During a film session there, coach Tyronn Lue inspired slumping forward Kevin Love with a profane pep talk.
But NBA patronage of Trump hotels began to change in June 2015, when Trump entered the White House race as a hard-right figure, stoking suspicions about immigrants and resentment of coastal elites.
Soon after, he began to lose some customers from the league, whose ranks of players are three-quarters black and include many who have been outspoken about issues such as law enforcement's treatment of African Americans.
That summer, the Pacers stopped staying at Trump SoHo. A spokesman blamed problems with bus access.
So did the Dallas Mavericks, whose owner, Mark Cuban, became one of Trump's loudest critics in 2016. Cuban declined to comment about the team's decision.
In 2016, after Trump had captured the GOP nomination, more NBA teams left.
The Memphis Grizzlies quit Trump SoHo. No connection to politics, the coach said.
So did the Thunder. The team would not comment on why.
The Milwaukee Bucks stopped being Trump customers the following year — after first trying, and failing, to pull out of a Trump Chicago reservation during the preseason, according to team officials. When the Bucks returned to Chicago in the regular season, they had a new hotel.
In that case, the reason for the departure was Trump himself. The Trump Organization was seen as not reflecting the franchise's values and some players were not comfortable patronizing its properties, according to a person familiar with the decision who requested anonymity to describe internal discussions.
One of those players was Bucks forward Jabari Parker.
"I'm proud to not stay in Trump hotels," Parker told the Sporting News last November, reflecting on the decision after the election. "I don't support someone who endorses hate on other people. He ran his campaign on hate. He's attacked everything that I am and believe." Parker said he felt offended by Trump's attacks on immigrants because his mother is from Tonga.
In some cases, pro teams continued to frequent Trump hotels but individual players stayed away. The Los Angeles Dodgers, for instance, returned to Trump's Chicago hotel in May 2016 on a road trip to play the Cubs. But Adrian Gonzalez, a Mexican American first baseman, chose to stay elsewhere.
"You can draw your own conclusions" about why, Gonzalez told the Los Angeles Times. "They're probably right."
The team soon followed suit. When the Dodgers returned to Chicago for the playoffs that year, they stayed at a new hotel.
"The decision to stay elsewhere was not a political one," Dodgers spokesman Joe Jareck said.
Then Trump was elected.
Last winter, after the election, something similar happened with the Cavaliers. When the team returned to Trump SoHo, star LeBron James and several other players did not join it there, according to the Akron Beacon Journal.
"Just my personal preference," James said, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, when asked why.
At the end of the season, the Cavaliers also decided not to come back to Trump SoHo, according to a team spokesman.
Trump SoHo also lost the Los Angeles Lakers as customers. The team had made plans to stay at Trump SoHo last season but pulled out before they arrived, citing worries about anti-Trump protests.
All three of the NHL teams that The Post identified as Trump clients have also stopped staying in Trump hotels. The Tampa Bay Lightning left in 2016. The Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals left this year.
It is possible that Trump still has some pro sports teams as clients.
For instance, the NBA' s New Orleans Pelicans, who have frequented Trump SoHo in the past, declined to say whether they were returning there this season, despite multiple inquiries.
Of the 106 teams from across all four sports that The Post reached, 18 declined to comment and 72 said they had not stayed at Trump properties in recent years. Rick Westhead, a Canadian reporter, said he had verified that a 73rd team, the Toronto Blue Jays, had not stayed at a Trump property recently.
Sixteen said they had stayed at a Trump hotel in the past seven years but had stopped since he launched his White House run.
On a recent Saturday evening, bars in the surrounding neighborhood were teeming with patrons. But the bar at the Trump SoHo was empty. A bartender predicted it would pick up.
Over the course of the next hour, two women stuck their heads in, looked around and left without saying a word.
Chelsea Janes, Candace Buckner and Isabelle Khurshudyan in Washington and Philip Bump in New York contributed to this report.