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At the very least, give Atlanta Hawks wing Kent Bazemore credit for not being afraid to break rank.
NBA players LeBron James, Kyle Lowry and J.J. Redick, among others, have all criticized Donald Trump in the first month of his presidency. As have coaches Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr and Stan Van Gundy. Same goes for Milwaukee Bucks executive Alexander Lasry. And Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
Even the league itself had to reach out to the State Department for clarity on Trump’s policy.
“That’s who we are,” Cuban said of the NBA’s response to a president who its members have called “xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic,” so the company line seems fairly self-evident.
At least on one subject, though, Bazemore was not so quick to dump on Trump. We’ll get to his semi-endorsement of the president, which included calling him “hip,” but first a little background …
While the league has no official stance on Trump, one of the NBA’s business partners, Under Armour chief executive offer Kevin Plank, came out in favor of the president in a CNBC interview this week:
“To have such a pro-business president is something that is a real asset for the country,” Plank said. “People can really grab that opportunity.”
The company clarified its CEO’s remarks, suggesting Under Armour’s support of Trump’s pro-business perspective, including a spot on the president’s American Manufacturing Council, is not necessarily an endorsement of other policies, like the immigration ban. How the corporation weighs its support of policies that might benefit the bottom line against others that may restrain its employees is a philosophical question for another day, but Plank was clear on Trump: “There’s a lot of respect there.”
Under Armour’s highest-profile NBA endorser, Stephen Curry, was just as transparent on Plank’s support of Trump. “I agree with that description,” said Curry, “if you remove the ‘et’ from asset.”
Curry elaborated, suggesting a lengthy phone call with the Under Armour CEO quelled some of his initial concerns, but “if I can say the leadership is not in line with my core values, then there is no amount of money, there is no platform I wouldn’t jump off if it wasn’t in line with who I am.”
… Enter Bazemore again. The Hawks wing was integral in recruiting Curry, a fellow North Carolinian, to Baltimore-based Under Armour in 2013, and so he too was asked about Plank’s recent comments. If you figured Bazemore would fall in line behind Curry, you’d be sorely mistaken. From Sporting News:
SN: Kevin Plank made the comments about Trump. What’s your take on all that?
Bazemore: I didn’t even see it. What’d he say?
SN: He said Trump’s an asset to the country and he looks forward to him being a business-leading president.
Bazemore: That’s kind of what my thoughts were when he won the presidency. Have a businessman in office, because that’s the way the world’s trending. Even in the NBA, there’s more business and entrepreneurship in athletics these days. And I’m living proof you take care of your brand, good things happen to you … We’ve been living some stuff that’s been written for 200-300 years. The world has changed. The world has gotten a little smarter. It’s good that we have somebody that’s hip in that aspect to try to change it.
There is a whole lot of ambiguity here, considering Bazemore was just learning of Plank’s stance, most likely unaware of Curry’s response, and speaking in sweeping generalities, including that one line that may or may not have classified the constitution as “some stuff that’s been written for 200-300 years.”
Bazemore didn’t fully endorse Trump, but he did seem to like the notion of having a businessman in office, if only out of respect for his branding ability, and he definitely described the president as “somebody that’s hip” to a world that’s “gotten a little smarter” and who might be apt to change along with it. That’s a lot closer to an endorsement than anything else the NBA has seen in recent weeks.
Indeed, Trump biographer Michael d’Antonio told The Washington Post that the president’s branding and franchising, which includes his name atop most ventures, is “more reminiscent of a professional athlete,” and that strategy, along with his bravado, might be Trump’s best quality as a businessman.
Whether Trump is a businessman to whom professional athletes should aspire is another matter. He inherited an estimated eight figures and his father’s real estate empire, branched out into other areas — from casinos and an airline to steaks and vodka — failing on a number of accounts, declared bankruptcy on six occasions, bilked contractors for millions and paid $25 million after his election to settle a lawsuit that accused him of defrauding thousands of Americans attending his “university.”
And that sort of business plan is difficult for anyone to replicate, multi-millionaire athlete or not.
We don’t know how much Trump is worth, because he never released his tax returns, and the one version we did see from 1995 revealed a one-year loss of almost $1 billion that he may or may not have used to avoid paying federal taxes for the next two decades. At least one financial expert suggested if Trump had gotten out of the business game entirely in 1978, invested in an S&P 500 index fund and reinvested his dividends, he’d actually be worth twice his estimated $2.9 billion today.
Let’s keep this on brand, though.
Despite his campaign promises to be a champion for the working class, the fear among many less fortunate than Trump was that the president would prioritize his fellow top tax bracket members — a concern that’s only been fueled by his desire to facilitate loans for his friends and chastise a company for dropping his daughter’s clothing line — while ignoring those who helped get him elected in swing states. Then again, Bazemore just signed a $70 million contract, and he’s got that brand to build.
How Baze reconciles his brand with the impact Trump’s other policies have on his family, friends and coworkers is the same conundrum Plank must now be facing inside his own company, and whether having this businessman as president is good for his pro-business supporters remains to be seen, too.
More on Yahoo Sports:
• Tiger Woods suffers another setback
• Raiders say they still have financing to move to Las Vegas, but who is paying for it?
• Is there a Trump connection to a group possibly buying the Miami Marlins?
• NFL mock draft: Four QBs in Round 1
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