Adam Silver, the commissioner of a league whose membership is about 75 percent African American, thinks it would be a mistake if NBA championship teams chose to boycott visits to the White House under Donald Trump’s presidency.
“To me, if a player were to choose not to go to the White House, whether they were choosing not to go to the current White House or a future White House, my response would be: ‘That’s a lost opportunity,’ ” Silver told The Undefeated’s Mike Wise. “Because that’s an opportunity that most citizens who have a political point of view would kill for — the opportunity to directly tell the president of the United States how they feel about an issue.
“Now, if the president were to say, ‘I have no interest in what members of the NBA think about an issue,’ that might surprise me and I might have a different response.”
Of course, the visits that championship teams pay to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. are long on photo ops and short on serious topics like racial referendums. Nor is it clear whether championship teams will choose not to come to the White House in protest of some of the things the president-elect said while campaigning or because President Obama was so linked with sports. It’s just too early to tell.
But in the immediate aftermath of the election, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James, who campaigned in Ohio for Hillary Clinton, said he wasn’t certain what he would do if the Cavs win again. James has visited the White House after each of the three NBA titles he and his teams have won.
“We’ll have to cross that road, I guess,” James said three days after the election. “We’ll see. I would love to have to cross that road.”
James had watched election returns with his wife until 4 a.m. and described what he was seeing as “difficult.” “It’s very difficult seeing what happened not only in our state but our country. It is what it is,” he said. “That’s the past. We’ve got to live in the present and [figure out] how we can make the future better.”
Players have individually chosen not to accompany their teams to the White House for decades. Tom Brady, for instance, cited a scheduling conflict for skipping the New England Patriots’ visit to Obama’s White House. In 2012, Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas skipped the trip as a Tea Party member who said he believes “the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.” Michael Jordan skipped out on a trip to George H.W. Bush’s White House. Larry Bird didn’t stop by when Ronald Reagan was in office. Golfer Tom Lehman refused to visit Bill Clinton, calling him a “draft-dodging baby killer.” The Steelers’ James Harrison passed on the opportunity twice. The Ravens’ Matt Birk, a Catholic opposed to abortion, cited his opposition to Planned Parenthood in not joining the team in Washington.
For Silver, though, it’s simply a matter of respect for the presidency, not the person who is in office.
“The institution is bigger than any one man, whether that man be President Obama or President Trump,” he said. “Ultimately players have to make their own decisions. But if they were seeking my counsel, my counsel would be that they should go to the White House if offered the opportunity.”