Everyone knew it was coming. As the vast majority of NBA players and coaches have kneeled during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and support of the Black Lives Matters movement, there would be politicians/talking heads who saw the opportunity to blast the league and score points with their base. They couldn’t pass it up.
Enter President Donald Trump.
In a phone call into Fox and Friends on Wednesday morning, the president ripped the NBA and its players for taking a knee during the anthem. It came with other over-the-top claims that Trump throws out like bread crumbs to pigeons.
President Trump calls NBA players "disgraceful" for kneeling during anthem, implies that he's done more for the black community than Abraham Lincoln pic.twitter.com/C5YJW3pAps
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) August 5, 2020
“When I see people kneeling during the playing and disrespecting our flag and national anthem, what I do personally is turn off the game. I think it’s disgraceful. We work with [the NBA], we worked with them very hard trying to get open. I was pushing for them to get open. Then I see everybody kneeling during the anthem. That’s not acceptable to me. When I see them kneeling during the game, I just turn off the game. I have no interest in the game. Let me tell you this, plenty of other people out there, too…
“The ratings for the basketball are way down, as you know. I hear some others are way down, including baseball. We have to stand up for our flag, stand up for our country. A lot of people agree with me. If I’m wrong, I’m going to lose an election. That’s okay with me. I will always stand for our flag.”
Ratings for the NBA games from the restart are way up — TNT drew double its usual regular-season audience for the opening night games, and ratings have been up about 14% across the board for the games from Orlando.
As for the reaction to Trump’s comments around the league?
“I mean, so what? Really, I don’t even care,” was Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers comment. “We know that justice is on our side, right?”
Kneeling for the anthem is just a part of the social justice message from the league. The league has written “Black Lives Matter” on the court, players could choose to wear a number of social justice messages on the nameplate on the back of their jerseys, and players have spoken about causes in countless television and other media interviews.
More than talk, players have put their money behind causes, such as LeBron James pushing to register Black and other people of color to vote, and push back on voter suppression efforts.
Trump wasn’t done being wrong or over the top, mentioning himself in the same breath as Abraham Lincoln.
“Nobody has done better for our Black community than me. Nobody. With the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln; it’s true. Criminal justice reform, opportunity zones, best employment numbers in history. Again, nobody has done for the black community – by far. I’ll give the one exception: Abraham Lincoln.”
Everyone around the league expected this at some point. The reaction around the league has been a shrug, knowing the president is playing election-year politics the only way he knows how.
“First of all, I don’t think anybody in the NBA cares if President Trump watches basketball. I couldn’t care less. As far as his base, I think regardless of the specificity of tweeting about the NBA, every tweet of his is meant to divide, every tweet is meant to incite, every tweet is meant to embolden his base.”