Donald Trump has waded into the anthem debate as well as the long-running conversation over the merits of LeBron James and Michael Jordan during a call to Clay Travis’ Fox Sports radio show on Tuesday.
Jordan and James are often held up as the two greatest players of the modern NBA era, and the president was asked whom he preferred. “Michael Jordan, plus he wasn’t political so people like him better,” Trump said.
Jordan has been derided for his perceived reluctance to speak out on politics. During a 1990 Senate race in his home state of North Carolina, Jordan refused to endorse Democrat Harvey Gantt, an African American who was running against the incumbent Republican Jesse Helms, a notorious racist. Jordan, who at the time had already won the first of his five NBA MVP awards, explained away his refusal to take a stance by saying “Republicans buy sneakers, too”.
In the recent ESPN documentary The Last Dance, Jordan insisted the comment was a joke. In June, he donated $100m to racial justice causes, and has spoken about the “ingrained racism” of the United States. James, meanwhile, is a long-time critic of the president and has often spoken out about racial injustice in the United States.
Trump also spoke about politics in the NBA more generally. The league has close ties with Black Lives Matters and most of its players have knelt during the anthem following the season’s restart this summer.
“It’s been horrible for basketball. Look at the basketball ratings. People are angry about it,” said Trump. “They have enough politics with guys like me. They don’t need more. There was a nastiness about the NBA and the way it was done. The NBA is in trouble. Big trouble.”
Trump said he preferred the stance of the NHL, which has no tie-in with Black Lives Matter and has not witnessed widespread kneeling.
The president then turned to a familiar topic: whether NFL players should kneel during the national anthem. In the past, Trump has called players who do not stand for the Star-Spangled Banner ‘sons of bitches’. On Tuesday, he said he would not like to see an NFL season if players kneel.
“You have to stand for your flag, and you have to respect your flag and your country,” Trump said. “You’re making millions of dollars a year playing a sport you’d be playing anyway, they’d be playing it on the weekends. And they have to respect their country. If they don’t, frankly, if the NFL didn’t open I’d be very happy. If they don’t stand for their flag and stand strongly, I’d be very happy if they didn’t open.”
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