Melania Trump issues statement in support of LeBron James after US President insults him

US First Lady Melania Trump's spokesman Stephanie Grisham said Mrs Trump would be open to visiting LeBron James' new school.
US First Lady Melania Trump's spokesman Stephanie Grisham said Mrs Trump would be open to visiting LeBron James' new school. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - US First Lady Melania Trump issued a statement on Saturday (Aug 4) in support of LeBron James, after President Donald Trump posted a late-night tweet attacking the basketball star.

The President took to his favourite medium and attacked James' intelligence on Friday night after CNN aired an interview in which the National Basketball Association star told anchor Don Lemon that he thought Mr Trump was trying to divide the country by using sports as a wedge.

"Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon," Mr Trump wrote. "He made Lebron look smart, which isn't easy to do. I like Mike!"

Mr Trump had apparently watched the re-broadcast of the interview, which originally aired on Monday, CNN said.

Lemon's questions mostly focused on James' time off the court, covering James' newly completed I Promise School in Akron, a public and non-profit partnership designed to help underprivileged kids in his Ohio hometown.

James, a newly minted Los Angeles Laker, three-time NBA Finals MVP and double Olympic gold medallist, said the school opening made Monday perhaps the greatest day of his life.

But Lemon also discussed James' political awakening, driven by racial upheaval in the country and Mr Trump's ongoing battle with Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who have knelt during the national anthem to protest police killings of black men.

"What I've noticed over the past few months," James told Lemon, "is (Trump has) kinda used sports to kinda divide us, and that's something that I can't relate to."

 

While James has not commented on Mr Trump's tweet, others have responded both directly and indirectly - like the First Lady.

"It looks like LeBron James is working to do good things on behalf of our next generation," said Mrs Melania Trump's spokesman Stephanie Grisham.

"And just as she always has, the First Lady encourages everyone to have an open dialogue about issues facing children today."

Ms Grisham went on to say that the First Lady supports "responsible online behaviour" as part of her Be Best initiative, and said that Mrs Melania Trump would be open to visiting James' new school.

The First Lady wasn't the first to mention her anti-bullying initiative on Saturday.

CNN host Don Lemon defended James and alluded to Be Best while taking a jab at the President on Saturday.

"Who's the real dummy? A man who puts kids in classrooms or one who puts kids in cages?" Lemon said on Twitter. He included a #BeBest hashtag.

It is not clear who Mr Trump meant when he said "I like Mike!". White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not return a request for comment, nor did James' agency Klutch Sports Group.

But many are pretty sure it is NBA legend Michael Jordan, who is endlessly compared with James.

Jordan responded to Mr Trump's tweet with a few words of his own."I support LJ. He's doing an amazing job for his community," Jordan said in a statement provided to The Washington Post by a spokesman.

During the interview, James told Lemon his first interaction with the white community was on the basketball court, where divisions melted away.

"Sports has never been something that divides people," James said. The NBA star has stepped into a more politically charged role in recent years.

The killing of Trayvon Martin - the 2012 case in which the unarmed black teenager was fatally shot and his killer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted by a Florida jury - was a turning point, he told Lemon.

But Mr Trump's election has changed James' outlook, along with other athletes and coaches. He called the President a "bum" last year, after Mr Trump disinvited NBA star Stephen Curry from visiting the White House, though it's not clear that an invitation was ever formally extended to Curry and his Golden State Warrior teammates.

James later said Mr Trump's rhetoric was harmful in the wake of violence in Charlottesville last year, where white supremacists and counterprotesters clashed and one woman was killed.

And in February, James used an expletive to claim that Mr Trump does not care "about the people".

Fox News host Laura Ingraham, a vocal Trump supporter, called James and fellow basketball star Kevin Durant ignorant and suggested they "shut up and dribble". That prompted criticism of Ms Ingraham, which suggested that efforts to silence and insult two outspoken black men were racist.

That observation echoed on Saturday. Torrey Smith, a former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver who was among the first of that team's players to say they would not visit the White House after winning the Super Bowl this year, suggested race played a role in Mr Trump's criticism.

"This is a late night tweet from the PRESIDENT," Smith said. "This tweet is immature and offensive I would like to know why he considers these two successful black men 'dumb'. I know why. Some of y'all need to start believing what he is showing you."

CNN's public relations arm also responded to the President's tweet on Saturday.

"Sounds like @FLOTUS had the remote last night. We hope you both saw the incredible work of @KingJames," the network said. Like Lemon, they included a #BeBest hashtag. James has not tweeted about Mr Trump's reaction, at least not explicitly.

He kept the focus on his school on Saturday by quoting a tweet with photos of smiling students."Let's get it kids!! Love you guys," James said.