There was no love lost between Trump and the NBA community over the past four years, with the Republican president often targeting a league composed largely of Black players. None of the past four champions visited the White House for their traditional visits once Trump disinvited the Golden State Warriors in 2017 following a verbal back-and-forth with Stephen Curry. LeBron James famously referred to Trump as “U Bum” during the exchange, and high-profile coaches such as San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Golden State’s Steve Kerr regularly criticized Trump’s divisive rhetoric and leadership abilities.
When NBA players began kneeling during the national anthem this summer at the Disney World bubble to protest police brutality, Trump said the “disgraceful” demonstrations made him “turn off the game.” James quickly fired back, saying the NBA “could [not] care less” and that “the game will go on without his eyes on it.”
On the day before the election, Trump rally attendees in Pennsylvania chanted, “LeBron James sucks!” Trump egged on the chants and told the crowd that “nobody wants to watch” the NBA because of its activism. James, for his part, was busy endorsing Biden and Kamala D. Harris, noting on Instagram that, “We need EVERYTHING to change and it all starts tomorrow.”
Following the May police killing of George Floyd, James and a group of other professional athletes launched “More Than a Vote” in June, hoping to encourage Black voter participation and fight voter suppression. Numerous NBA teams also converted their empty arenas into polling locations, facilitating the voting process in major urban centers.
Biden’s victory was powered, in part, by his strength in four predominantly Black cities: Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. The Democratic candidate is on track to sweep Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — all key battleground states. In Fulton County, where the Hawks had opened their arena to Georgia voters, Biden won 73 percent of the vote. In Detroit’s Wayne County, Biden claimed 68 percent. In Milwaukee, Biden took 69 percent. In Philadelphia, he won 81 percent.
“The African American community stood up again for me,” Biden said during his acceptance speech Saturday. “They always have my back, and I’ll have yours.”
The turnout efforts in those cities led multiple players to salute their home cities. Hawks guard Trae Young thanked Atlanta-area poll workers for “being a valuable player in our democracy” and cheered as Georgia unexpectedly flipped from red to blue. Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris, who was outspoken all summer on social justice issues, shared video of West Philadelphia residents dancing in the streets after Biden took the lead in Pennsylvania. Joel Embiid dusted off a familiar 76ers slogan.
“America TRUSTED THE PROCESS and it paid off,” the all-star center wrote.
Other player reactions ranged from silly to sincere. James, Young and Portland’s Damian Lillard shared photos or videos of their famous highlight plays with Biden’s face superimposed on their bodies and with Trump standing in as their hapless opponents. Washington’s Bradley Beal wrote that “Character MATTERS,” and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns saluted Harris for becoming the first woman to be elected vice president.
“This is a moment the country NEEDED and a moment Women DESERVED,” wrote Towns, who lost his mother, Jacqueline, to covid-19 complications in April.
Kerr saluted Georgia organizer Stacey Abrams for responding to her 2018 gubernatorial election loss by registering 800,000 voters in her state.
“Rather than crying ‘fraud,’ she embarked on an incredible journey to ensure election integrity and register new voters,” he tweeted, drawing a clear contrast between Abrams and Trump, who has refused to concede. “[Abrams] didn’t use hate or anger to inspire people — she used hope. What an incredible example of leadership! She inspired Americans to not only take part in our democracy, but to trust it.”
Biden’s election should normalize relations between the White House and the NBA. He spent eight years as vice president to Barack Obama, who regularly attended games while in office and made appearances at All-Star Weekend in Chicago in February and on television as a virtual fan during the NBA Finals in October. Harris, a Warriors fan from Oakland, was honored Saturday with a signed Curry jersey. The inscription read: “To Kamala. Bay Area [to] DC. Congrats!!”
The NBA players’ victory lap came full circle when Warriors forward Draymond Green noted that the Lakers would be able to resume the tradition of visiting the White House following Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
“Y’all can go to the White House and celebrate y’all title,” Green tweeted to James.
“YO we back up in there my G,” James replied. “I’m taking my tequila and vino too!”
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