The President of the United States, Donald Trump, decided to insult two people with one Tweet Friday night, taking a shot at Don Lemon of CNN, then throwing in a dig at LeBron James‘ intelligence for good measure. Doing so in the wake of LeBron spending more than $40 million from his non-profit to build a school for the most disadvantaged in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, was poor timing.
And it rallied athletes — both NBA players and those from other sports — to defend LeBron.
There were others that lept forward as well.
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Thought this throwback photograph from President Obama’s 49th birthday was an appropriate one to wish him a happy birthday today. And now he and LeBron have something in common—being the recipient of racist and bullying tweets from the current president. Oh, and both of them like Mike. #throwshadethenvote @kingjames
LeBron is popular and respected among his fellow NBA players, but he’s also arguably the biggest name/brand in sports in the world right now. He’s a guy athletes from other disciplines look up to and try to emulate, both for his success on the court and his moves off it in terms of business success and willingness to speak out and act on social issues. Those athletes jumped to LeBron’s defense as well.
As myself and others have noted, this is not going to work for Trump the way his attacks on the NFL anthem have. The NBA’s fan base is younger, more diverse, and more urban than the NFL’s and it has far less overlap with the hardcore Trump base. NBA fans will mainly read the above Tweets from athletes and nod in agreement, then maybe send out their own Tweets bashing the president.
The other factor here is that the NBA owners are not going to run scared from the president the same way, because of both the demographic issue mentioned above, and the fact the players hold the power in this relationship in the NBA. If Chris Paul and James Harden did something to protest during the national anthem at an NBA game, even in red state Texas, Houston owner Tilman Fertitta would not throw down some silly edict because he would fast have a rebellion on his hands. The power dynamic is different from the NFL’s, and the owners know it. Of course, this all got headed off in the NBA because the NBA Commissioner encourages the players to speak out on issues, backs them, and in the face of the anthem protests went to Paul, LeBron, and the players’ union and started a dialogue about what they should do. A dialogue based on trust and respect. Turns out, that stuff works.