LeBron James joins the NBA fray, dubs President Trump's travel ban un-American

LeBron James received the NAACP Jackie Robinson Sports Award prior to a game earlier this month. (AP)
LeBron James received the NAACP Jackie Robinson Sports Award prior to a game earlier this month. (AP)

NBA players, coaches and executives have all raged against President Donald Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, and if you thought the league was through making a punching bag out of the president’s policies, think again, because its most prominence voice just joined the fray.

In an interview with Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, who accepted the NAACP’s Jackie Robinson Award last week, The Hollywood Reporter got the four-time NBA MVP to enter the ring:

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“Diversity is what makes this country so great,” James told The Hollywood Reporter’s Marisa Guthrie. “We should all continue to speak up and fight for ideas that bring people together regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs or any other differences.”

[…]

“I am not in favor of this policy or any policy that divides and excludes people,” added James. “I stand with the many, many Americans who believe this does not represent what the United States is all about. And we should continue to speak out about it.”


The NBA reached out to the State Department for clarification almost immediately after Trump signed an executive order trying to freeze immigration from seven mostly Muslim countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — with exceptions outlined for persecuted people of minority religions. The NBA considers itself “a global league,” including two Sudanese-born players and even more Muslim employees, so there was concern about the president’s attempt to restrict visitors from the seven nations, even those with valid visas or refugee status, from entering the United States.

Within 24 hours, a federal judge in New York City ruled a portion of Trump’s order in violation of the constitution, and even after the administration made exceptions for permanent residents, green card-holders and dual citizens from the seven countries in question, another federal judge from Seattle made a broader ruling against a policy the president has called “the ban.” At Trump’s behest, Justice Department lawyers are currently appealing the rulings, and the issue could reach the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, there was immediate NBA concern for Sudanese-born Milwaukee Bucks rookie Thon Maker, who was in Toronto for a game against the Raptors when Trump’s executive order was signed. Bucks vice president Alexander Lasry took to Twitter to quell fears of inquiring fans: “He’s back. But we have to pray for those who aren’t as lucky. This is a massive problem and not who we are as a country.”

That sentiment was soon shared by a number of vocal NBA players and coaches, most notably Maker’s countryman, Los Angeles Lakers forward Luol Deng, who stood as a “proud refugee” and encouraged people to educate themselves about the vetting process already in place before Trump’s travel ban. More forcefully, Brooklyn Nets forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a Muslim born and raised in Pennsylvania, called the order “B.S. at the end of the day,” and Raptors star Kyle Lowry concurred.

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, whose father was killed by the Islamic Jihad Organization while living in the Middle East, told reporters, “If anything, we could be breeding anger and terror, so I’m completely against what’s happening.” Then, Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy doubled down:

“It’s just playing to people’s fears and prejudices and everything else, and we’re getting back to the days of putting the Japanese in relocations camps, of Hitler registering the Jews. That’s where we’re headed. It’s just fear-mongering and playing to a certain base of people that have some built-in prejudices that aren’t fair. There’s no reasonable reason to do it. If they haven’t been responsible for a single American fatality, how is doing it make us safe? That’s the question, and the answer, obviously, it’s not.”

If there was a dissenting voice in the NBA, it was drowned out by the sheer volume of criticism levied against the Trump administration in recent months, ranging from San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich calling the president’s comments “xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic” to L.A. Clippers guard J.J. Redick conceding, “I’m actually horrified right now.” As Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said, “That’s who we are. We’ve always tried to help those who were less fortunate. We’re community driven. Our players take big steps in community organizations. We take big steps as a league.”

And no step may be louder in NBA circles than the one LeBron James just took.

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Following Trump’s election in November, James posted on Instagram, “We will be all right,” and “even if who’s now in office doesn’t, know that I love you all.” LeBron’s comments to The Hollywood Reporter suggest his protests of the new administration won’t end there — a not insignificant voice among the historic number of Americans polled who disapprove of the incoming president, what with his millions of social media followers. Whether that voice will be heard is another matter. The Cavs star endorsed and openly campaigned for Hillary Clinton in Ohio, where Trump still won by a margin of 8.6 percent.

“It’s important that we as athletes continue to use the platform we have to speak up for what we believe in,” James added to The Hollywood Reporter.

James, who donated $2.5 million for a Muhammad Ali exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian and whose foundation has pledged to put more than 1,000 Akron students through college, accepted the Jackie Robinson Award last week. A videotaped broadcast of the 48th annual NAACP Image Awards will air on TV One this coming Saturday.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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