LeBron James has hit out at Donald Trump’s slew of comments on professional athletes from the NFL and NBA saying “the people run the country, not one individual, and damn sure not him.”
James had tweeted about Mr Trump over the weekend when the President said his invitation to the 2017 NBA champion Golden State Warriors had been rescinded, calling Mr Trump a “bum”.
When asked if he regretted his comments Mr James said: “I said what I said”.
Team star Steph Curry had earlier said he would not be visiting the White House as is customary for American league championship teams. Both players visited the White House during the Obama administration when their teams had won in previous seasons.
James, speaking during a Cleveland Cavaliers media day in Ohio, said “going to the White House was a great honour until you showed up” and pointed out that Mr Trump was rescinding an invitation to Mr Curry that had already been declined.
James added that “one person can’t divide us” regarding what he felt were the President’s divisive remarks at a Huntsville, Alabama political rally on 22 September.
The President had said “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b**** off the field right now! Out! He’s fired,'” using his now infamous line from his reality television programme The Apprentice.
He was referring to NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who has no clear connection to the special election for US Senate seat or Republican Luther Strange’s bid for the seat that Mr Trump was there to support.
Kaepernick, currently a free agent without a team, was the first player to kneel during the national anthem ahead of a game while he played for the San Francisco 49ers. He said: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour.”
His protest stemmed from a slew of police-involved shooting deaths of several young black men across the US and sparked controversy among fans.
James went on to say he “salute[s] the NFL, the coaches, the players, the owners, the fans … it was unbelievable, solidarity, there was no divide.”
He said he would not let one person “ever use sport as platform to divide us.”
The NBA is set to begin 17 October and James said he would not be surprised if the conversation and protests continued into his league as well if nothing has changed between now and then.
He acknowledged that the state of Ohio had voted for Mr Trump in the 2016 election, but that it does impact his responsibility as a community figure.
“My calling is much bigger than that guy. We all have the right to express our feelings. My voice is more important than my knee.”
“It’s about equality and people having freedom to speak about things not just,” adding that he does not feel taking a knee during the national anthem is a sign of disrespect to the American flag or the military as Trump surrogates and critics of Mr Kaepernick and other players have said.
James also said that the position of President of the US is the “most powerful position in the world” and that children look up to the person in office for leadership and moral guidance. But he felt Mr Trump “doesn’t understand the power that he has.”
Mr Trump later said the kneeling protests have “nothing to do with race, but Mr James argued otherwise.
“The most powerful position in the world has the opportunity to…put the youth at ease” and “say it’s ok for me to walk down the street and not be judged for the colour of my skin. And…he doesn’t even care,” James said.