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Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James answered questions on a variety of topics for almost 45 minutes during Monday’s media day festivities, but a large portion of that was dedicated to President Donald Trump’s controversial comments over the weekend regarding NBA and NFL athletes.
James first responded to Trump’s decision to rescind a White House invitation to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, calling the president a “bum” who disgraced the office in a matter of months:
After Trump also referred to NFL players who kneel during the national anthem in protest of racial equality as “sons of bitches” who deserve to be fired, James went further in a video on Uninterrupted, deriding the president for once again dividing the country after fanning the flames following racial tension in Charlottesville, Virginia. “It’s not something I can stand for,” he said.
James then tripled down on those sentiments at media day, supporting former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s efforts to create a dialogue about social injustice in this country, calling into question the education of voters who supported Trump, including those in his home state of Ohio, and suggesting NBA players may follow their NFL brethren’s lead in kneeling for the anthem.
“My first initial response was, ‘You bum,'” James told reporters. “He doesn’t understand the power that he has for being the leader of this beautiful country. He doesn’t understand how many kids, no matter the race, look up to the president of the United State for guidance, for leadership, for words of encouragement. He doesn’t understand that, and that’s what makes me more sick than anything. …
“Being the president of the United States is the most powerful position in the world. It’s the most powerful position in the world, and we are at a time where the most powerful position in the world has an opportunity to bring us closer together as a people and inspire the youth and put the youth at ease, saying that it is OK for me to walk down the street and not be judged because of the color of my skin or because of my race, and he has no recollection of that and he doesn’t even care.”
The one positive James took from Trump’s divisive remarks was that they reignited a conversation that African-American athletes have been trying to have with this country for going on a half-century now.
“I definitely know the people that’s paved the way for myself today,” he said. “You talk about guys like Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell and Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson and
Austin Carr. Those guys paved the way for guys like myself where I can feel confident about my words. I can feel confident about what I say and hopefully that it hits home for somebody.”
Asked if he thought NBA players would kneel during the national anthem in protest of Trump and others forging a racial divide in the United States, as many NFL players did on Sunday, James said, “I wouldn’t be surprised. I wouldn’t be surprised if something trickled down to the NBA if no change happened between now and the [season opener on Oct.] 17th. So, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
As for whether James would take a knee, the four-time MVP suggested he will take a different tactic:
“For me, personally, my voice is more important than my knee. I talk every single day. What I say I think should hit home for a lot of people. I don’t believe I have to get on my knee to further what I’m talking about.
“I don’t down anybody that is doing anything in the NFL. I salute Colin Kaepernick for being as powerful as he was and being the one who had to fall on his sword, unfortunately. I hate that, and I wish I owned an NFL team right now. I’d sign him today. But I don’t.
“But I think my voice, what I do in my community and what I stand for, I don’t think I have to show more by getting on a knee or doing something else. It’s powerful what all these athletes are doing. We even had the first baseball player do it two nights ago. That’s phenomenal. I commend these guys, and I commend guys who are trying to make a difference, because it’s not about the disrespect of the flag and our military and everybody who has made this world free. It is about equality and people having the option and the freedom to speak upon things they feel that aren’t just.”
James publicly supported Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and happens to play in a state that helped swing the election in Trump’s favor this past November. He did not couch his statements with respect to Ohioans who he believes may not have put much thought into their votes.
“If you voted for him, that’s OK. I’ve done things for my kids and realized I shouldn’t have given my daughter that many damn Skittles. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that,” said James, before adding:
“I don’t think a lot of people were educated, and I think that’s one of the biggest problems that we have when it becomes vote time — that people are just not educated on either the individual or what’s actually going on in the state of the world right now. I don’t think a lot of people are educated. And they make choices and say things that are uneducated.
“Am I’m saying that the people of Ohio wasn’t educated? Am I saying that some of the other states that voted for him was uneducated? They could have been or they could not have been. But that doesn’t mean that it was the right choice. …
“You can look back at some of the greatest drafts of all time and say that, ‘OK, did the Trail Blazers make the right choice when they took Sam Bowie?’ Can we all sit up here and say that they should have taken Michael Jordan? Yes, or no? So, for me as a professional athlete in this state and even though this state voted for Trump, that doesn’t stop me inspiring the people of this state and inspiring the youth. Because I would be even more wrong if I started to pound the people of Ohio. That makes zero sense.
“My job is and my calling is much bigger than that guy. I don’t even like saying his name. So while I have this platform, I will continue to inspire the state of Ohio not only by what I do on the floor, but also by putting 1,300 kids into school and spending almost $45 million.”
Indeed, James has performed extensive work in the community through his charitable foundation.
James also finds himself in the awkward position of playing on a team owned by Dan Gilbert, who financially supported Trump. The president has even called the Cavs owner “a great friend of mine.”
“We have not discussed it face to face,” James said of his boss. “It has no impact. I think when you put yourself in a position like that, to stand close to the guy like that — if anyone stands next to that guy, he will call you close friends. He doesn’t even know you. That’s just how irrational his mind is.
“I can’t speak for Dan. He’s his own man. I can’t speak for the situation that happened. He can tell you about that. For me, as a player for this franchise, I have to do what I can do to better this team and better the conversation. It hasn’t changed my relationship. It hasn’t changed my outlook on the situation.”
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