President Donald Trump is on the receiving end of critical remarks from NBA superstar LeBron James and a defensive assault from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. A large chunk of the NBA and NFL also launched a war of words at the president.
It all added up to the Golden State Warriors announcing they won’t make the champions’ traditional visit to the White House. And the controversy that played out all day Saturday even prompted a fresh response from Cubs manager Joe Maddon, whose team has visited the Trump White House.
The rhetoric heated up once James called Trump a “bum” after the president rescinded his White House invite for Steph Curry of the NBA-champion Warriors.
Trump — in a morning tweet — said Curry’s hesitation on a potential White House visit caused him to rescind the invite — one that officially hadn’t been made.
“Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!” Trump tweeted.
Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
Trump’s tweet created a firestorm on Twitter, and James of the Cleveland Cavaliers — the team that lost to the Warriors in the NBA Finals — had the loudest reaction, suggesting the honor of visiting the White House vanished once Trump took up residency.
James tweeted at Trump: “U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”
U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain't going! So therefore ain't no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 23, 2017
It’s worth noting — mainly because Trump tends to keep score on such things — that as of late Saturday afternoon, Trump’s tweet had a tiny fraction of the likes (154,700) that James’ tweet (903,000) had generated.
Twitter says this is now LeBron's most retweeted tweet. Previous record was 111K retweets from 2013 when he tweeted "I'm not MJ, I'm LJ." pic.twitter.com/RM09atcMAH— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) September 23, 2017
What set off the president, evidently, was Curry’s comments during a Warriors media session on Friday.
“We don’t stand for basically what our president has said — and hasn’t said,” Curry, a two-time NBA MVP, told reporters. “By not going, hopefully, that will inspire some change in what we will tolerate in this country.”
Warriors teammate Draymond Green weighed in with his own tweet — fighting Trump on his preferred battle ground — by saying: “Still wondering how this guy is running our country …”
Still wondering how this guy is running our country....— Draymond Green (@Money23Green) September 23, 2017
Warriors coach Steve Kerr — the former Bulls star — has said his team was planning to discuss the potential White House visit before its first practice on Saturday. The Warriors issued a statement at midday saying they will “constructively use our trip to the nation’s capital in February to celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion — the values we embrace as an organization.”
The statement began by making it clear the Warriors — as a team — do not intend to make the traditional visit.
“We accept that President Trump has made it clear that we are not invited,” the Warriors statement said. “We believe there is nothing more American than our citizens having the right to express themselves freely on matters important to them. We’re disappointed that we did not have an opportunity during this process to share our views or have open dialog on issues impacting our communities that we felt would be important to raise.”
There was some confusion if the entire team was no longer welcome. According to a White House pool report, the White House did not clarify if the president planned to disinvite the entire Warriors team or just Curry.
It’s generally regarded as a given that championship teams visit the White House — as the Cubs did in June. If you recall, the Cubs visited the White House at the end of the Obama presidency to celebrate their 2016 World Series title with a president who’s from Chicago but loudly roots for the White Sox, then scheduled another visit to the Trump White House during the season.
That second trip — built around a series against the Washington Nationals — created a tense situation for the Cubs, with some wrestling with the issue of visiting such a controversial president.
“I’m going because it’s the United States of America, and I’d rather not live anywhere else except this country,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who was the player rep who addressed the media in January after the Obama visit. “It’s an honor. No political ties. It’s the White House.”
Pitcher Hector Rondon expressed that he would prefer not to go, saying: “I prefer to stay in my room, get rest and get prepared for the game.”
Maddon said in June — right after the Warriors won their title — that declining an invitation would “absolutely” be a political statement but dismissed the Cubs’ visit as a political endorsement.
“To go [in June] is out of respect to the Ricketts family and to the office and the building itself,” Maddon said. “Listen, I like the United States a lot. I like living here a lot. I like everything that it that it represents a lot. When you get a chance as a citizen to get to go to the White House, you go.
“And whether you like that person that’s running the country or not, out of respect to the office itself you go. I don’t agree with all the other banter that’s going on right now because I have a different perspective. I would much prefer living here than some of the other places that adopt different methods of government.
“I think sometimes that gets confused when people want to take a stand [without] realizing actually what we have here, which is a lot better than most every place else.”
Maddon weighed in again on the topic after the Cubs’ frustrating loss to the Brewers in Milwaukee on Saturday.
“It’s dangerous when folks in our country stop respecting the White House and the seat of the president,” Maddon said. “It’s not a good situation.
“With all due respect to everybody, I just believe that we need to get our acts together collectively, all of us.”
Meanwhile, during a speech in Alabama on Friday night, Trump ripped into the current state of the NFL, firing up his partisan crowd with these comments on players refusing to stand during the national anthem:
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired! He’s fired!
“The only thing you could do better, is if you see it, even if it’s just one player, leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore, anyway.”
That prompted a rare response from Goodell, who said in a statement:
“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”
So, of course, Trump doubled down on his comments during another Twitter rant on Saturday afternoon. Trump tweeted: “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect….”
Followed quickly with another Trump tweet: “…our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”
If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
...our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
Trump later offered a direct reply to Goodell’s statement, tweeting: “Roger Goodell of NFL just put out a statement trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country.Tell them to stand!”
Roger Goodell of NFL just put out a statement trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country.Tell them to stand!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
Trump’s tweets kept the social-media world buzzing Saturday. And, of course, the sports world responded.
With everything that's going on in our country, why are YOU focused on who's kneeling and visiting the White House??? #StayInYoLane— Chris Paul (@CP3) September 23, 2017
And I doubt he's man enough to call any of those players a son of a bitch to their face...— Chris Paul (@CP3) September 23, 2017
We'll "stick to football" when we see progress. Our Nations leader can't even set a good example of how it looks to be a great American— Davante Adams (@tae15adams) September 23, 2017
The behavior of the President is unacceptable and needs to be addressed. If you do not Condemn this divisive Rhetoric you are Condoning it!!— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) September 23, 2017
“Stick to sports boy... Sit down and do what your told. Say or do something we don’t like and your fired” Well I hate to break it to ya...— Chris Conley (@_flight17_) September 23, 2017
What an emphatic response, where was this passion in response to Charlottesville... https://t.co/OkVZTdloXx— Max Garcia (@MGarcia_76) September 23, 2017
Bingo Was a son of a bitch. AirBud was a son of a bitch Beethoven Balto Wishbone, Scooby Doo all sons of bitches. Martellus Bennett is not.— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) September 23, 2017
I do not have a master and neither does my mother.— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) September 23, 2017
I'm ok with being fired for what I believe in.— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) September 23, 2017
The idea of @realDonaldTrump thinking that suggesting firing me from football, confirms that he thinks that it's all I can do as a Black man— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) September 23, 2017
I'll jump when I want. I'll sit when I want. I'll kneel when I want. I'll clap. Sing. Flip and I'll say what I want. You ain't DeeBo.— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) September 23, 2017
Trump had a good day. Had a nice lunch and then made enemies of every pro athlete in America.— Albert Brooks (@AlbertBrooks) September 23, 2017
Trump also said referees are “ruining the game” by calling 15-yard penalties for “beautiful” tackles. This comment comes at a time when the NFL is under fire for responding to concussion issues that have had an impact on football from the youth level all the way up to the professional level.
The NFL Players Association released an expanded statement Saturday morning, saying that it makes “no apologies” for protecting the rights of its members, which includes freedom of speech.
“Their decision is no different from the one made by countless others who refused to let ‘what they do’ define or restrict ‘who they are’ as Americans,” it said. “No man or woman should ever have to choose a job that forces them to surrender their rights.”
BREAKING: Steph Curry and the Warriors have released this official response to being uninvited to the White House: pic.twitter.com/GaRny4Aj7D— Robin Thede (@robinthede) September 23, 2017
Meanwhile, Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first major-league player to kneel during the national anthem. Maxwell, part of a military family, had criticized Trump on Instagram earlier in the day.
The A’s issued a statement, saying: “The Oakland A’s pride ourselves on being inclusive. We respect and support all our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”
The 49ers, who took the brunt of abuse when former quarterback Colin Kaepernick became the first to kneel during the anthem, also issued a statement from CEO Jed York:
“The callous and offensive comments made by the President are contradictory to what this great country stands for. Our players have exercised their rights as United States citizens in order to spark conversation and action to address social injustice. We will continue to support them in their peaceful pursuit of positive change in our country and around the world. The San Francisco 49ers will continue to work toward bringing communities, and those who serve them, closer together.”
Contributing: Gordon Wittenmyer
Follow me on Twitter @ChrisDeLuca.