Following Tuesday’s stunning election result, several NBA players and coaches offered some harsh criticism of President-elect Donald Trump. Most notably, Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy opined, “I don’t think anybody can deny this guy is openly and brazenly racist and misogynistic.”
This view was shared by Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr. Given the league is largely made up of African-Americans and led by four black superstars who sought to bridge the country’s racial divide this summer, including one who campaigned for Hillary Clinton, this response comes as little surprise.
Neither, then, should NBA Countdown analyst Jalen Rose’s comments on ESPN Wednesday, via FTW:
“Personal politics in general can be a divisive topic, and for Donald Trump, during his candidacy, he became a polarizing candidate, which included along the way insulting a lot of people. So, those same people today as American citizens have to digest that he’s going to be the next president of the United States. How’s it going to affect sports? Unlike Tom Brady, when his team won the championship, and he chose not to go to the White House, saying it was a scheduling conflict when Barack Obama was in office, what we’re going to see in professional sports — NBA and NFL — mark my words, there will be players that decline the opportunity to visit the White House under his presidency.”
Fellow former NBA player and ESPN analyst Chauncey Billups agreed with Rose’s prediction that some players will forego the annual tradition of title teams visiting the White House while Trump is in office.
“A lot of players, I think, will take that right. It’s just disturbing to me. Before I got on the plane to come here, I went by and spent a little time with my grandmother. She’s 82 years old, she’s from Mississippi, so you can imagine what she’s seen in her lifetime. We talked a little bit about election day; she was just so nervous that this would happen, to be honest with you, and I feel bad for her, I feel bad for her generation. They’re seeing men like this say the things that they’ve said about women. I was raised by some very, very strong women — my mother, my grandparents, my aunties, who served as grandparents — and I’m a dad of three daughters, and I fear the opportunities that have been afforded to some people, different races in this country, they won’t be afforded to my kids. It’s just disappointing.”
Meanwhile, an anonymous player on the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers, who paid their title visit to Barack Obama on Thursday (LeBron’s third such meeting with the current president), told Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins that entire teams may turn down a White House invitation from Trump.
Somewhat ironically, the Cavs went to the White House on the same afternoon Obama welcomed the President-elect for his first visit, so technically they did arrive on a day Trump was in the Oval Office.
The next athlete to decline a White House invitation would not be the first. Players from every major sport have refused the offer for reasons both innocuous and political, Republican or Democrat. Brady was the most notable recent example, citing a previous family commitment upon foregoing a 2015 visit with Obama. Trump, of course, announced he had Brady’s full support on the eve of the election.
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NBA legends have done the same. Michael Jordan said of a no-show with George H.W. Bush in 1991, “How can I be disrespecting the president when I choose to spend time with my family?” Likewise, Larry Bird said of Ronald Reagan in ’84, “If the president wants to see me, he knows where to find me.”
Although, if a player, or an entire team, specifically cited the president’s racism and misogyny as reason to decline the traditional trip to the White House, that would certainly rekindle a controversial conversation about weighing one’s personal beliefs against respect for the nation’s highest office.
And with Kerr’s Warriors and LeBron’s Cavs as the favorites to win the NBA championship again this season, the predictions Rose and Billups broadcast on Wednesday night could be realized soon.
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