LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — After President Donald Trump said Wednesday morning that seeing professional athletes kneel during the national anthem causes him to “turn off the game,” Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James said the NBA won’t miss him.
“I really don’t think the basketball community is sad about losing his viewership, him viewing the game,” James said following the Lakers’ 105-86 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night. “And that’s all I got to say.”
James initially attempted to keep his comments on the subject brief — wearily acknowledging how the story could grow if he engaged in a back-and-forth with Trump. “I already know where this could go, where it could lead to for tomorrow for me,” he said. “I’m not going to get into it.”
However, James, who is spearheading a voting rights organization, More Than a Vote, along with other athletes and entertainers, used the opportunity to address November’s presidential election and promote the game Trump is shunning.
“I think our game is in a beautiful position and we have fans all over the world and our fans not only love the way we play the game, we try to give it back to them with our commitment to the game. But also respect what else we try to bring to the game and acknowledge it — what’s right and what’s wrong,” James said. “And I hope everyone, no matter the race, no matter the color, no matter the size, will see what leadership that we have at the top in our country and understand that November is right around the corner and it’s a big moment for us as Americans. If we continue to talk about, ‘We want better, we want change,’ we have an opportunity to do that. But the game will go on without his eyes on it. I can sit here and speak for all of us that love the game of basketball: We could [not]care less.”
James’ stance aligned with LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers’ comments earlier Wednesday. “Well we lost one guy,” Rivers said when asked about Trump refusing to watch the NBA. “I mean, so what. Like really, I don’t even care. We know that justice is on our side. Right?”
Rivers then referred to a hat he was wearing with the word “Vote” on it. “And this hat that I am wearing is what our president is trying to get us to not do,” Rivers said. “Which I think is just as disgraceful.”
Nearly every player, coach, staff member and referee — with a few notable exceptions in Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic, Meyers Leonard of the Miami Heat and coaches Gregg Popovich and Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Spurs — have kneeled in unison in front of the “Black Lives Matter” message printed on the courts at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex when the anthem has been played before games.
“When I see people kneeling during the playing and disrespecting our flag and national anthem, what I do personally is turn off the game,” Trump said in a phone interview with “Fox & Friends.” “I think it’s disgraceful. We work with [the NBA], we worked with them very hard trying to get open. I was pushing for them to get open. Then I see everybody kneeling during the anthem. That’s not acceptable to me. When I see them kneeling during the game, I just turn off the game. I have no interest in the game. Let me tell you this, plenty of other people out there, too.”
Trump also suggested the league’s popularity is being hurt by others, like him, who have decided not to watch games played in the NBA’s basketball bubble in Orlando, Florida, because of the peaceful protest the players and coaches are involved in.
“The ratings for the basketball are way down, as you know,” Trump said. “I hear some others are way down, including baseball. We have to stand up for our flag, stand up for our country. A lot of people agree with me. If I’m wrong, I’m going to lose an election. That’s OK with me. I will always stand for our flag.”
The NBA enjoyed an increase in ratings last week, contrary to Trump’s statement. The two games on opening night that aired across TNT and streaming platforms scored an average audience of 2.9 million viewers — an 109% increase above the average viewership for an NBA game during the 2019-20 season. Friday’s Houston Rockets-Dallas Mavericks game telecast on ESPN drew 1.7 million viewers — an increase of 15% over ESPN’s regular-season average.
After the Lakers kneeled during the anthem before playing the Clippers on opening night of the league’s restart last week, James explained that the NBA’s demonstration was in harmony with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel — aiming to highlight injustice, rather than reject patriotism.
“You go back and look at any of his postgame interviews when he talked about why he was kneeling, it had absolutely nothing to do about the flag, had absolutely nothing to do about the soldiers, the men and women that keep our land free,” James said last week. “He explained that, and the ears were uncomfortable. People never listened. They refused to listen, and I did. And a lot of my people in the Black community did listen, and we just thank him for sacrificing everything that he did.”
This is not the first time James and Trump have publicly exchanged words. James referred to Trump as the “so-called president” and called him a “bum” on Twitter back in 2017, while Trump took a dig at James in 2018, implying that he liked Michael Jordan better