Melania praises LeBron James after Trump insults NBA star

US First Lady Melania Trump issued a statement that appeared to break ranks with her husband, in support of NBA star LeBron James (above), after Mr Trump insulted Mr James' intelligence in a tweet.
US First Lady Melania Trump issued a statement that appeared to break ranks with her husband, in support of NBA star LeBron James (above), after Mr Trump insulted Mr James' intelligence in a tweet.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG
US First Lady Melania Trump (above) issued a statement that appeared to break ranks with her husband, in support of NBA star LeBron James, after Mr Trump insulted Mr James' intelligence in a tweet.
US First Lady Melania Trump (above) issued a statement that appeared to break ranks with her husband, in support of NBA star LeBron James, after Mr Trump insulted Mr James' intelligence in a tweet.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON • After Mr Donald Trump sniped back at basketball player LeBron James' suggestion that he fuels American racial divides, support has flooded in for the NBA great - including from the US President's own wife.

In an interview last Tuesday - also broadcast late on Friday - Los Angeles Lakers player and philanthropist James told CNN he believed Mr 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 Mr James, who last Monday opened an elementary school for at-risk youth in his native Akron, Ohio.

For the rest of the week, Mr Trump was uncharacteristically silent - until Friday night, when he finally shot back. "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.

His comment sparked a huge reaction from Mr James' supporters - but the most surprising came from First Lady Melania Trump, whose communications director issued a statement that appeared to break ranks with the President.

Ms Stephanie Grisham was quoted by CNN as saying Mr James appeared to be "working to do good things on behalf of our next generation". "Just as she always has, the First Lady encourages everyone to have an open dialogue about issues facing children today," she said.

Ms Grisham added the First Lady "would be open to visiting" Mr James' new school.

Meanwhile, Mr Lemon, the presenter who had interviewed Mr James, also got Mrs Trump involved. "Who's the real dummy? A man who puts kids in classrooms or one who puts kids in cages? #BeBest", Mr Lemon tweeted, using the hashtag of her youth well-being awareness campaign, which advocates against cyber bullying. He was also referring to the Trump administration's decision to separate migrant children from their parents.

Mr Trump's former Democratic rival Hillary Clinton backed Mr James as a "great family man" and "incredible ballplayer" who "gives back to his community".

Even NBA icon Michael Jordan weighed in, as Mr Trump had closed his tweet by saying "I like Mike!"

"I support LJ," Mr Jordan, now the owner of the NBA's Charlotte Hornets, said in a statement. "He's doing an amazing job for his community."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2018, with the headline 'Melania praises LeBron James after Trump insults NBA star'. Print Edition | Subscribe