First lady Melania Trump issued a statement Saturday in support of LeBron James, after President Trump posted a late-night tweet attacking the basketball star.
The president took to his favorite medium and attacked James’s intelligence Friday night after CNN aired an interview in which the NBA star told anchor Don Lemon that he thought Trump was trying to divide the country by using sports as a wedge.
“Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon,” Trump wrote. “He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!”
Trump had apparently watched the rebroadcast of the interview, which originally aired Monday, CNN said.
Lemon’s questions mostly focused on James’s time off the court, covering James’s newly completed I Promise School in Akron, a public and nonprofit partnership designed to help underserved kids in his Ohio hometown.
James, a newly minted Los Angeles Laker, three-time NBA Finals MVP and double Olympic gold medalist, said the school opening made Monday perhaps the greatest day of his life.
But Lemon also discussed James’s political awakening, driven by racial upheaval in the country and Trump’s ongoing battle with Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who have knelt during the national anthem to protest police killings of black men.
“What I’ve noticed over the past few months,” James told Lemon, “is [Trump has] kinda used sports to kinda divide us, and that’s something that I can’t relate to.”
While James has not commented on Trump’s tweet, others have responded both directly and indirectly — like the first lady.
“It looks like LeBron James is working to do good things on behalf of our next generation,” said Melania Trump’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham. “And just as she always has, the First Lady encourages everyone to have an open dialogue about issues facing children today.”
Grisham went on to say that the first lady supports “responsible online behavior” as part of her Be Best initiative, and said that Melania Trump would be open to visiting James’s new school.
The first lady wasn’t the first to mention her anti-bullying initiative on Saturday. Lemon defended James and alluded to Be Best while taking a jab at the president Saturday.
“Who’s the real dummy? A man who puts kids in classrooms or one who puts kids in cages?” Lemon said on Twitter. He included a #BeBest hashtag.
Melania Trump wasn’t the only person with experience as the first lady to respond in James’s favor. Hilary Clinton sent a tweet Saturday afternoon in which she praised James for being “a great family man” and “incredible ballplayer” who “gives back to his community and isn’t afraid to speak his mind.”
The Lakers also weighed in with a statement in response to the president. Jeanie Buss, the team’s CEO and owner, referred to James as “an incredibly thoughtful and intelligent leader.”
It is not clear who Trump meant when he said “I like Mike!” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not return a request for comment, nor did James’s agency Klutch Sports Group.
But many are pretty sure it is NBA legend Michael Jordan, who is endlessly compared to James. Jordan responded to Trump’s tweet with a few words of his own.
“I support LJ. He’s doing an amazing job for his community,” Jordan said in a statement provided to The Washington Post by a spokesperson.
During the interview, James told Lemon his first interaction with the white community was on the basketball court, where divisions melted away. “Sports has never been something that divides people,” James said.
The NBA star has stepped into a more politically charged role in recent years. The killing of Trayvon Martin — the 2012 case in which the unarmed black teenager was fatally shot and his killer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted by a Florida jury — was a turning point, he told Lemon.
But Trump’s election has charged James’s outlook, along with other athletes and coaches. He called the president a “bum” last year, after Trump disinvited Stephen Curry from visiting the White House, though it’s not clear that an invitation was ever formally extended to Curry and his Golden State Warrior teammates.
He later said Trump’s rhetoric was harmful in the wake of violence in Charlottesville last year, where white supremacists and counterprotesters clashed and one woman was killed.
And in February, James used an expletive to claim that Trump does not care “about the people.”
Fox News host Laura Ingraham, a vocal Trump supporter, called James and fellow basketball star Kevin Durant ignorant and suggested they “shut up and dribble.” That prompted criticism of Ingraham, which suggested that efforts to silence and insult two outspoken black men were racist.
That observation echoed Saturday. Torrey Smith, a former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver who was among the first of that team’s players to say they would not visit the White House after winning the Super Bowl this year, suggested race played a role in Trump’s criticism.
“This is a late night tweet from the PRESIDENT,” Smith said. “This tweet is immature and offensive I would like to know why he considers these two successful black men “dumb”. I know why. Some of y’all need to start believing what he is showing you.”
CNN’s public relations arm also responded to president’s tweet on Saturday.
“Sounds like @FLOTUS had the remote last night. We hope you both saw the incredible work of @KingJames,” the network said. Like Lemon, they included a #BeBest hashtag.
James has not tweeted about Trump’s reaction, at least not explicitly. He kept the focus on his school Saturday by quoting a tweet with photos of smiling students.
“Let’s get it kids!! Love you guys,” James said.