Donald Trump in angry row with sports stars after withdrawing Warriors invitation

Bryan Armen Graham

Donald Trump was the subject of startlingly strong abuse from major sports stars on Saturday, after he criticised NFL players protesting against racial injustice and withdrew an invitation for the NBA-champion Golden State Warriors to visit the White House, breaking a tradition dating back to the Reagan years.

The Cleveland Cavaliers star forward LeBron James called the president a “bum” while the Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy went further, calling Trump an “asshole”. Even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was critical, saying in a statement: “Divisive comments like [Trump’s] demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL.”

In their own statement, the Warriors accepted they would not be going to the White House. But they said they would use their trip to Washington in February – they play the Washington Wizards on the 28th of that month – to “celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion”.

On Friday, point guard Steph Curry, the NBA champions’ star player, told reporters he planned to vote no when the players came together to decide whether to visit Trump. The Warriors could “inspire some change” and “send a statement” by snubbing the president, Curry said.

On Saturday morning, Trump tweeted: “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team, Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”

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In a statement issued later, the Warriors said: “While we intended to meet as a team at the first opportunity we had this morning to collaboratively discuss a potential visit to the White House, we accept that President Trump has made it clear that we are not invited.

“We believe there is nothing more American than our citizens having the right to express themselves freely on matters important to them. We’re disappointed that we did not have an opportunity during this process to share our views or have open dialogue on issues we felt would be important to raise.

“In lieu of a visit to the White House, we have decided that we’ll constructively use our trip to the nation’s capital in February to celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion – the values that we embrace as an organization.”

Reports that the Warriors might skip their White House visit first surfaced in June, a day after they defeated the Cavaliers to win a second NBA title in three seasons. It was unclear if the team ever received a formal invitation. There was no immediate White House comment.

Trump’s tweet came after a rally in Alabama at which he abused NFL players who have chosen to kneel during the national anthem. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” the president said.

On Saturday James, a three-time visitor to the Obama White House after winning titles with the Miami Heat and the Cavaliers, launched an extraordinary outburst against Trump.

“U bum,” James tweeted. “Stephen Curry already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

McCoy’s tweet read: “It’s really sad, man … our president is a asshole.”

The Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul, who is president of the NBA players’ union, wrote: “With everything that’s going on in our country, why are YOU focused on who’s kneeling and visiting the White House??? #StayInYoLane.” He added: “And I doubt he’s man enough to call any of those players a son of a bitch to their face.”

Curry, a two-time NBA most valuable player and the face of the Warriors franchise, had made his feelings clear when asked to respond to comments from the chief executive of Under Armour, his primary sponsor, that Trump was “a real asset” to the country.

“I agree with that description, if you remove the ‘et’,” Curry said, wryly.

Trump’s tweet about Curry was sent from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, approximately 20 minutes after the morning news program Fox & Friends aired an item on the player’s comments. Trump is a well-documented fan of the popular Fox News show; many observers have noticed its role in setting the president’s agenda.

He returned to the offensive on Saturday afternoon, writing: “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”

Several key members of the Warriors set-up have previous spoken out against Trump. Coach Steve Kerr has been among the most vocal critics of the president’s policies, most notably his entry ban on travelers and refugees from six Muslim-majority countries.

Kerr’s father, Malcolm, was killed by two gunmen in 1984 while he was president of the American University of Beirut. Islamic Jihad, a precursor of Hezbollah, claimed responsibility for the murder.

Kerr said: “I would just say that as someone whose family member was a victim of terrorism, having lost my father, if we’re trying to combat terrorism by banishing people from coming to this country, by really going against the principles of what our country is about and creating fear, it’s the wrong way of going about it.

“If anything, we could be breeding anger and terror. So I’m completely against what’s happening.”

John F Kennedy was the first president to host the NBA champions, when the Boston Celtics visited in January 1963. The visit became an annual occurrence under Ronald Reagan. Golden State visited Barack Obama after winning the title in 2015.

On Saturday the national-champion men’s college basketball team, University of North Carolina, said they would not take up their own invitation to visit the White House.