The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

LeBron James and Gregg Popovich voice anger over Capitol riot before and after Lakers-Spurs game

LeBron James and Gregg Popovich, shown before a Lakers-Spurs game last month in San Antonio. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

Two of the NBA’s most prominent voices — as well as consistent sources of criticism of President Trump — on Thursday joined the chorus of NBA players and coaches who have decried the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday as well as President Trump’s role in the brief insurrection.

LeBron James said after the Lakers’ 118-109 loss to the visiting San Antonio Spurs that Wednesday’s riot was “a direct correlation of the president that’s in the seat right now, of his actions, his beliefs, his wishes.”

Before the game, Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich told reporters, “I believe with all my heart that Trump enjoyed it.”

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Both the coach and the superstar player noted the security failures that allowed rioters to easily enter and roam freely around the Capitol.

In extensive comments, Popovich castigated Trump for having, as he saw it, ensured a lack of “preparation” for the assault. “They talked about the police and how easy it was, and the barriers were pulled and they just walked right in,” Popovich said. “That doesn’t happen unless there is a wink and a nod somewhere. That just doesn’t happen. It’s never happened at any protest anybody has ever been to.”

“There wasn’t any preparation. He didn’t want any preparation,” Popovich, 71, said of Trump. “He’s incapable. He’s incompetent.”

James, 36, argued that law enforcement’s handling of the chaotic scene stood in stark contrast to its response to Black Lives Matter protests last summer.

“We live in two Americas,” he said. “You couldn’t help but wonder, if those were my kind storming the Capitol, what would have been the outcome? We all know. There’s no ifs, ands or buts. We already know what would have happened to my kind if anybody would have gotten even close to the Capitol, let alone stormed inside the offices and hallways.”

James, a father of three, said he showed his children a photo of a nonviolent Black protester with his daughter along with one of a White looter inside the Capitol to help explain the country’s racial disparities.

“I saw the photo of a black man holding his daughter on top of his shoulders, and you’ve got a police officer with a shield on, with a gun pointed right at him or her,” James said. “It could have been rubber bullets or real bullets, we’ve all see that photo. And then on the contrary, you’ve got this white guy walking inside the Capitol with his thumb up in the air with the damn podium in his hand. What more do I need to say to my kids than to see the two differences? It’s right there in their face.”

James’s comments on a double standard echoed those made earlier by Popovich, who said: “There can’t be a better, obvious example of a system that is not fair as far as justice and equal rights are concerned, and protection of citizens. It was just right in your face. Anyone that can ignore that is a shameful individual, in my opinion.”

James and Popovich have criticized Trump throughout his four years in office. Last August, James said that the NBA “could [not] care less” that Trump said he was refusing to watch basketball because players knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality. On Thursday, the four-time MVP called the November election of Joe Biden “a step forward” for the country.

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Popovich, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy who served as an officer for five years, in 2016 declared himself “sick to my stomach” three days after Trump was elected. Thursday, he called Trump “deranged,” “dangerous” and “not a well man” and suggested that an invocation of the 25th Amendment, under which a sitting president can be removed from power by the vice president and a majority of Cabinet officials, would be appropriate.

Popovich ended his thoughts by asserting that trying to oust Trump, “even if it doesn’t work,” would send a “message to the world that is laughing at us.”

“I’m embarrassed to be an American and see people seeing what they saw yesterday,” said the coach. “It would send a great message, and maybe help all of us to heal a bit and start to feel good.”

James also referred to the assault as “shameful” and “embarrassing.”

“I grew up knowing that America was the land of the free and the home of the brave,” he said. “We’re setting an example for all these other countries in the world, how to run things, how to be great and how to maneuver and change the world. Yesterday, we looked like a third-, fourth- or fifth-world country.”