President Donald Trump triggered a backlash from the US professional sports world on Saturday, withdrawing a White House invitation to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors after condemning NFL players protesting the national anthem.
A day after Trump had decried activist National Football League stars as “sons of bitches” who should be fired for kneeling or sitting during renditions of The Stars and Stripes, the US leader turned his ire to basketball’s reigning champions and star player Stephen Curry.
Curry said on Friday he would not attend a White House reception if his team was invited, a tradition that stretches back several decades.
Trump responded with an early morning Twitter salvo on Saturday.
“Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!” he wrote.
Trump’s outburst drew a stinging response from across the NBA, with Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James among the first to weigh in.
“U bum @StephenCurry already said he ain’t going!” James wrote on Twitter. “So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up.”
The NBA Players Association also rallied swiftly behind Curry.
“Steph: consider this withdrawal a badge of honor!” NBAPA executive director Michele Roberts wrote on Twitter.
– Making a ‘statement’ –
Curry said the Warriors could make a “statement” by declining to attend the White House reception.
“We have an opportunity to send a statement that hopefully encourages unity, encourages us to appreciate what it means to be American, and stand for something,” Curry told ESPN on Friday.
Speaking at the Warriors media day later Friday, Curry said simply: “I don’t wanna go.”
Leading figures across the NBA have been among some of Trump’s most searing critics in the US professional sports world.
Curry’s Warriors teammate Kevin Durant, the reigning NBA Finals MVP, said last month he would boycott any trip to the White House, accusing Trump of escalating racial tensions.
“I don’t respect who’s in office right now… I don’t agree with what he agrees with,” Durant said.
Trump’s spat with Curry and the Warriors came less than 24 hours after the president raged against NFL players who have protested the national anthem.
The NFL has seen a surge in activism by players since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick last year refused to stand for The Stars and Stripes in a protest against the treatment of minorities by law enforcement.
– ‘Divisive comments’ –
However in a tirade in Alabama on Friday, Trump said players who protested the anthem should be dismissed.
“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!'” Trump told a rally.
“You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it (but) they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reacted with dismay to Trump’s comments in a statement on Saturday.
“Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities,” Goodell wrote.
Others meanwhile condemned Trump’s choice of words to describe the anthem protesters.
Kaepernick’s mother, Teresa Kaepernick, responded on Twitter: “Guess that makes me a proud bitch!”
Several NFL players also lined up to condemn Trump’s latest rant.
“It’s a shame and disgrace when you have the President of the US calling citizens of the country sons of a bitches,” Minnesota Vikings running back Bishop Sankey wrote on Twitter.
“Might as well call the creators of the Constitution SOBs too,” he added.
Denver Broncos guard Max Garcia meanwhile contrasted Trump’s speech in Alabama to his much-criticized response to deadly violence by white supremacists in Charlottesville last month.
“What an emphatic response, where was this passion in response to Charlottesville…,” Garcia wrote.