NBA, NFL hit back after Trump tirade

Rob Woollard
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NBA superstar LeBron James, pictured in 2014, had a withering response for President Donald Trump, who targeted Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry on Twitter

President Donald Trump triggered a backlash from the US professional sports world on Saturday after withdrawing a White House invitation to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors and condemning NFL players protesting the national anthem.

A day after Trump had decried activist, mostly African American National Football League players as "sons of bitches" for kneeling or sitting during renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner," the US leader turned his ire to basketball's reigning champions and their top player Stephen Curry.

Curry said Friday he would not attend a White House reception if his team was invited in accordance with a tradition that stretches back several decades. Curry's remarks followed similar comments by teammate Kevin Durant last month, who accused Trump of escalating racial tensions.

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 Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!"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."

Curry later spoke appreciatively of James's words of support.

"That's a pretty strong statement," he said. "I think it's bold, it's courageous for any guy to speak up, let alone a guy that has as much to lose as LeBron does and other notable figures in the league."

The Warriors, meanwhile, said in a statement they would plan their own trip to Washington instead of going to the White House, making the visit a celebration of "equality, diversity and inclusion."

- Escalating tensions -

Leading figures across the NBA have been among some of Trump's most searing critics in the US professional sports world.

Durant, the reigning NBA Finals MVP, said last month he would boycott any trip to the White House, taking aim at Trump's response to racially charged violence in Charlottesville.

"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 national anthem that precedes each game in protest at law enforcement brutality toward minorities.

In a tirade in Alabama on Friday, Trump said players who protested during the anthem should be fired.

"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.

"Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players," Goodell wrote.

- 'Tell them to stand!' -

But an unrepentant Trump doubled down on his criticism in further remarks on Twitter.

"If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!" Trump wrote.

In a later tweet, Trump condemned Goodell, accusing the NFL chief of trying to "justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country."

"Tell them to stand!" Trump exhorted.

Others condemned Trump's use of the words "son of a bitch" to describe the anthem protesters.

Kaepernick's adoptive mother, Teresa Kaepernick, responded on Twitter: "Guess that makes me a proud bitch!"

Several NFL players lined up to condemn Trump.

"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.

NFL team owners also rounded on Trump. New York Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch described Trump's remarks as "inappropriate, offensive and divisive."

San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York said Trump's remarks were "callous and offensive" and "contradictory to what this great country stands for."

On Saturday night, Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first US Major League Baseball player to kneel during the playing of the anthem.

The 26-year-old catcher dropped to his knee and placed his hand over his heart in front of the team's dugout before the start of a regular season contest against the Texas Rangers.