Washington (AFP) – US President Donald Trump sniped back at NBA great LeBron James late Friday, days after the basketball player and philanthropist accused him of fueling racial divides in the United States.
“Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, (CNN presenter) Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do,” the president tweeted of the Los Angeles Lakers player.
In an interview on Tuesday — also broadcast late Friday — James told CNN he believed Trump “is kind of trying to divide us.”
“He’s kind of used sport to… divide us and that’s something I can’t relate to, because I know that sport was the first time I ever was around someone white. You know?” said James, who on Monday opened an elementary school for at-risk youth in his native Akron, Ohio.
Trump’s comment sparked huge reaction on Twitter from James’ backers.
“Keep doing you @KingJames!” Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry tweeted in a succinct message of support.
“We got your back @KingJames Someone sure sound like they wish they was you,” tweeted linebacker Bobby Wagner of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.
Even NBA icon Michael Jordan — famous for his reluctance to comment on political and societal matters in his prime — weighed in, after Trump closed his tweet saying “I like Mike!”
“I support LJ,” Jordan, now the owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, said in a statement released through his publicist. “He’s doing an amazing job for his community.”
James himself steered clear of the matter on social media on Saturday, tweeting only a picture of students at his new school with the message: “Let’s get it kids!! Love you guys”
James, who ranks seventh in career National Basketball Association scoring, also told CNN Tuesday he would “never sit across” from Trump, whom he accuses of emboldening racists.
“I think (racism’s) always been there. But I think the president in charge now has given people — they don’t care now, they throw it to your face,” he said.
That echoed comments he made in January that Trump had “given people and racism… an opportunity to be out and outspoken without fear.”
Indeed, this week’s exchange is just the latest in a long-running feud between James and the president.
In June, Trump said that neither the Cleveland Cavaliers — James’ previous team — nor the Golden State Warriors would be invited to the White House following the NBA Finals.
He was responding to remarks by then-Cavs star James and Curry, who both said they would not attend a White House reception.
Last year, Trump also withdrew an invitation to the NBA champions Warriors after Curry and several teammates indicated misgivings about attending a White House event.
James described Trump as a “bum” following the furor.