US president Donald Trump has denounced protests by NFL players in a two-day rant that targeted top professional athletes and brought swift condemnation from league executives and star players alike.
Wading into thorny issues of race and politics, Mr Trump’s comments in a Friday night speech and a series of Saturday tweets drew sharp responses from some of the nation’s top athletes, with LeBron James calling the president a “bum”.
Mr Trump started by announcing that NBA champion Stephen Curry, the popular two-time MVP for the Golden State Warriors, would not be welcome at the White House for the commemorative visit traditionally made by championship teams: “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”
Later, Mr Trump reiterated what he said at a rally in Alabama the previous night – that NFL players who kneel for the national anthem should be fired, and called on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to tell them to stand.
The Warriors said it was made clear to them that they were not welcome at the White House.
Curry had said he did not want to go anyway, but the Warriors had not made a collective decision before Saturday – and had planned to discuss it in the morning before the president’s tweet, to which coach Steve Kerr said : “Not surprised. He was going to break up with us before we could break up with him.”
Others had far stronger reactions.
“U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going!” James tweeted in a clear message to the president – a post that Twitter officials said was quickly shared many more times than any other he has sent. “So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”
Curry appreciated James’s strong stance.
“That’s a pretty strong statement,” Curry said. “I think it’s bold, it’s courageous for any guy to speak up, let alone a guy that has as much to lose as LeBron does and other notable figures in the league. We all have to kind of stand as one the best we can.”
Curry added that he does not believe Mr Trump “respects the majority of Americans in this country”.
James also released a video on Saturday, saying Mr Trump has tried to divide the country. “He’s now using sports as the platform to try to divide us,” James said. “We all know how much sports brings us together… It’s not something I can be quiet about.”
The Warriors said that when they go to Washington this season they will instead “celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion – the values that we embrace as an organisation”. General manager Bob Myers said he was surprised by the invitation being pulled, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he was disappointed that the Warriors will not be at the White House.
“The White House visit should be something that is celebrated,” Mr Myers said. “So we want to go to Washington DC and do something to commemorate kind of who we are as an organisation, what we feel, what we represent and at the same time spend our energy on that. Instead of looking backward, we want to look forward.”
Kerr added after his team’s first practice of the season, “These are not normal times.”