“I really don’t think the basketball community are sad about losing his viewership,” James said. “The game will go on without his eyes on it. I can sit here and speak for all of us that love the game of basketball: We could [not] care less.”
More than 300 NBA players — with only a few exceptions — have locked arms and knelt before each game inside the bubble at Disney World, an act first popularized by NFL star Colin Kaepernick in 2016. They have been joined by coaches and even referees, with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver opting not to uphold a long-standing league rule that requires players to stand during the anthem.
Trump has long taken issue with athletes taking a knee during the anthem, and he targeted the NBA specifically in a Fox News interview Wednesday morning.
“I think it’s disgraceful,” Trump said by telephone. “We worked with them. We worked very hard trying to get them open. I was pushing them to get open, then I see everyone kneeling during the anthem. It’s not acceptable to me. When I see them kneeling, I just turn off the game. I have no interest in the game. Let me tell you, there are plenty of other people out there [tuning out], too. … The ratings for the basketball are way down.
“We have to stand up for our flag. We have to stand up for our country. We have to stand up for our anthem. A lot of people agree with me. Hey, if I’m wrong, I’m going to lose an election. That’s okay with me. I’ll always stand for our country and our flag.”
James has been outspoken throughout the NBA’s restart in Florida, calling for the arrest of the Louisville police officers who shot Breonna Taylor, offering extended thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement and saluting both Kaepernick and Rep. John Lewis for their activism.
The 35-year-old James has regularly referred to former president Barack Obama, Trump’s predecessor, as a “friend.” In 2016, James attended a political rally in Cleveland for Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent. James also has spearheaded a new voting rights group called More Than a Vote in the lead-up to November’s presidential election.
“I hope everyone — no matter the race, color or size — see what leadership we have at the top in our country,” James said. “November is right around the corner, and it’s a big moment for us as Americans. We want better, we want change, and we have an opportunity to do that.”
James famously tweeted in 2017 that Trump was a “bum” for claiming that he had uninvited the Golden State Warriors from making a traditional trip to the White House to celebrate their championship. That tweet received more than 641,000 retweets and led to intense media coverage. James acknowledged Wednesday that his latest comments about the president could spark a similar firestorm.
“That’s all I’ve got to say,” he said after the Lakers lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 105-86. “I already know where this could go, or lead to, tomorrow for me. Our game is in a beautiful position. We have fans all over the world. Our fans not only love the way we play the game — we try to give it back to them — but also respect what else we try to bring to the game [off the court].”
Trump also addressed the Black Lives Matter movement in Wednesday’s Fox News phone interview, turning to a favorite talking point that “nobody has done better for the Black community than me, with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln.”
Informed of that comment, James said: “Are you trying to make me laugh right now? I appreciate that.”
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