“You’re great players but no one voted for you,” Ingraham said. “Millions elected Trump to be their coach. So keep the political commentary to yourself or, as someone once said, shut up and dribble.”
After her remarks drew criticism Friday, Ingraham issued a statement, saying the “shut up and dribble” phrase was a riff off her own past work and that she has used variations of that phrase for 15 years.
“If pro athletes and entertainers want to freelance as political pundits, then they should not be surprised when they’re called out for insulting politicians,” she said in the statement. “There was no racial intent in my remarks; false, defamatory charges of racism are a transparent attempt to immunize entertainment and sports elites from scrutiny and criticism.”
The video featuring the NBA stars had been filmed last month, the night before James’s Cleveland Cavaliers hosted Durant’s Golden State Warriors on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The two stars, both former MVPs, sat in the back seat of a car in James’s hometown of Akron, Ohio, as ESPN anchor Cari Champion drove the vehicle and led the conversation.
Saying that “we are at a watershed moment in this country’s history, and we cannot deny that we are very divided, especially in the political arena,” Champion reminded James that he called Trump a “bum” in September, shortly after Durant and his teammates indicated that they didn’t want to make a traditional post-championship visit to the White House. Champion asked how the players would describe “the climate for an athlete with a platform” who wants to “talk about what’s happening in our world.”
“The climate is hot,” James replied. He said that the current president — filling the “No. 1 job in America” — 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 like three jobs that you looked to for inspiration, or you felt like these were the people that could give me life,” James continued. “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 could 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,” James said. “At this time right now, with the president of the United States, it’s at a bad time, and while we cannot change what comes out of that man’s mouth, we can continue to alert the people that watch us, that listen to us, that this is not the way.”
Durant then chimed in, saying that with “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,” Durant said. “And I feel like our team, as a country, is not run by a great coach.”
James has been a frequent critic of Trump, and before that Cavs-Warriors game, he expressed his unhappiness for the president without referring to Trump by name. “We are in a difficult state right now as Americans, with the leader of our country,” James said at the time, adding that “we all have to continue to come together and shine a brighter light on — I don’t want to use the word stupidity, but that’s basically what it comes down to.”
In August, James said that Trump “just made [hate] fashionable again.” During Thursday’s video, Champion brought up a painful experience for the Cavs star when she mentioned how some people think that being “a black man with money … makes you numb to the experience” of racism.
“I’m a black man with a bunch of money, and having a crib in Brentwood [Calif.] and having the word n—– spray-painted over my gate, that lets you know I ain’t too far removed,” James said. “And I’ve still got a lot more work to do.”
He was referring to an incident in May, when Los Angeles police launched an investigation into a possible hate crime after a home owned by James was vandalized with a racial slur. James said in the video that “no matter how much money or access, or how high you become in life as an African American man or female, they will always try to figure out a way to let you know that you’re still beneath them.”
Ingraham’s response on Thursday took issue with both players.
“Must they run their mouths like that?” she said. “Unfortunately, a lot of kids — and some adults — take these ignorant comments seriously. Look, there might be a cautionary lesson in LeBron for kids: This is what happens when you attempt to leave high school a year early to join the NBA. And it’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid a hundred million dollars a year to bounce a ball. Oh, and LeBron and Kevin: You’re great players but no one voted for you. Millions elected Trump to be their coach. So keep the political commentary to yourself or, as someone once said, shut up and dribble.”