NBA-LeBron James says Trump has emboldened racists in the U.S.

(Note language that may offend some readers in fourth paragraph)

Jan 15 (Reuters) - Basketball star LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers said on Monday President Donald Trump has emboldened racists in the United States and urged the country not to allow itself to be divided along racial lines.

"The guy in control has given people and racism ... an opportunity to be out and outspoken without fear," James, a frequent Trump critic, told reporters prior to the Cavaliers' game against the Golden State Warriors on the U.S. holiday honoring civil rights activist Martin Luther King.

"And that's the fearful thing for us because it's with you and it's around every day but he's allowed people to come out and just feel confident about doing negative things."

Trump has come under fire for reportedly calling some African nations "shithole countries" during a White House meeting with lawmakers discussing U.S. immigration policy.

Trump has denied using such derogatory language, which has led him to be widely condemned by many African leaders and international rights organizations. He told reporters he was "the least racist person you have ever interviewed."

James said Americans should stand united against hate.

"We can't allow that to stop us from continuing to be together and preach the right word of living and loving and laughing," he said. "Because would we want to live anywhere else? I don't think so. We love this place."

In August James, four-time winner of the National Basketball Association's most valuable player award, slammed Trump for saying there were "some very fine people on both sides" of protests spearheaded by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, which left one counterprotester dead.

In September, James called Trump a "bum" on Twitter after the president withdrew a White House invitation to Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who had said he did not want to meet with Trump to celebrate the Warriors NBA 2016-2017 championship.

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, another outspoken Trump critic, on Monday called racism America's "national sin" and said he did not take Trump at his word.

"Every time I hear someone say they are not a racist, you know they are," he told reporters. (Editing by Bill Trott)