LeBron James Says He Doesn’t Care if Trump Shuns N.B.A. Over Protests

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers insisted on Wednesday night that the N.B.A.’s comeback will not be marred by the loss of President Trump’s fan support.

After Trump said earlier Wednesday that he regarded N.B.A. players’ kneeling during the national anthem as “disgraceful” and vowed to stop watching games, James said that the basketball community was not “sad about losing his viewership.”

In a Wednesday morning telephone interview with Fox & Friends, Trump said he turned off N.B.A. games “when I see people kneeling” and “disrespecting our flag and disrespecting our national anthem.” Asked about Trump’s comments after the Lakers’ 105-86 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder later in the day, James fired back.

“The game will go on without his eyes on it,” James said at his postgame news conference from the N.B.A.’s so-called bubble at Walt Disney World in Florida. “I can sit here and speak for all of us that love the game of basketball: We could care less.”

The practice of teams lining up and kneeling during the national anthem to protest systemic racism and police brutality has become a standard feature of every game at the N.B.A. restart since the league officially resumed its season July 30. There have been only a few exceptions; Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac, Miami’s Meyers Leonard, San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich and his assistant coach Becky Hammon have chosen to stand.

Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner, said last week that he would not enforce the league’s rule — which dates to 1981 — mandating that players, coaches and team staff members line up and stand in a “dignified” posture for the playing of the national anthem before every game.

“I respect our teams’ unified act of peaceful protest for social justice and under these unique circumstances will not enforce our longstanding rule,” Silver said.

Trump tweeted last month that he would turn off games if players knelt, then broadened his criticism in Wednesday’s Fox & Friends interview.

“It’s not acceptable to me,” Trump said, expressing disappointment because the White House, he said, worked “very hard” with the N.B.A. to help the league reboot after the season was suspended on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“When I see them kneeling, I just turn off the game,” Trump said. “I have no interest in the game.”

Trump has often criticized athletes for kneeling during the anthem in what is broadly seen as a strategy to appeal to to his political base. In 2017, Trump urged N.F.L. team owners to fire anyone who would not stand for the anthem. In June, he said he would not watch the N.F.L. if players continued to kneel.

In Wednesday’s Fox interview, Trump said that no president had done more for Black people than he had — “with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln.” When told of those comments, James said: “You trying to make me laugh right now? I appreciate that.”

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