LeBron James, Michael Jordan and President Trump’s obsession with influential black male athletes
In a week jampacked with soulful culture, a president squeezed in a jab at the NBA GOATs, and the GOATs won
Exactly 23 minutes before midnight — amid the social media celebration of Barack Obama’s 57th birthday on Aug. 4 – President Donald Trump, as he is prone to do, fired off a tweet that made international headlines. This time he brought into his crosshairs two men who made No. 23 an iconic symbol of dominance: LeBron James and Michael Jordan.
Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 4, 2018
The interview to which 45 is referring is James’ sit-down with CNN’s Don Lemon after the opening of I Promise elementary school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. Like many other NBA players, Jordan came to James’ defense. “I support LJ,” Jordan said in a statement as short and to the point as the famed 1995 fax that signaled his return to the NBA. “He’s doing an amazing job for his community,” Jordan continued.
The new Los Angeles Lakers superstar had never bitten his tongue on the subject of Trump. “What I’ve noticed over the past few months,” James said, “[is] he’s kinda used sports to kinda divide us, and that’s something that I can’t relate to.” Asked what his response would be if Trump were in front of him, James kept it a hundred: “I would never sit across from him.”
It’s been a soulful cadre of days in culture. Intense. Hours before Trump’s tweet, the day began with the release of a slew of new music. Mac Miller’s Swimming, his first album post-Ariana Grande, is a petri dish of heartbreaking and depressing emotions. The result is an enthralling real-time listen to a man attempting to put his life back together. Enigmatic rhythm and blues starlet H.E.R.’s I Used To Know Her EP dropped, and it’s a fulfilling place holder for her long-anticipated album.
YG’s Stay Dangerous finds him reunited with DJ Mustard for his third studio project. It looks, sounds, feels and even seems to taste like South Central Los Angeles. Whether Dangerous lives up to the exquisiteness of 2014’s My Krazy Life or the brilliance of 2016’s Still Brazy is a discussion best left to time, but Bompton’s own found his new single “Big Bank” in the middle of the newest NFL public relations drama.
Colin Kaepernick’s name was edited out of Big Sean’s verse on Madden NFL 19’s soundtrack. Big Sean quickly took to Twitter denouncing the move, and YG also pledged his allegiance to Kaepernick. EA Sports quickly apologized, but the damage was done. Especially as Kaepernick’s name had been edited out of last year’s soundtrack as well.
The standout project of the weekend is Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD. Much has changed for the Missouri City, Texas, native since 2016’s standout Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight. The biggest shift being that Scott is now the father of infant daughter Stormi with Forbes cover girl and cosmetics industry mogul Kylie Jenner.
ASTROWORLD, which is projected to be a No. 1 pop album, is blessed with a variety of subjects and ambience. With features from Frank Ocean, Stevie Wonder, Swae Lee, James Blake, Quavo and Takeoff, Pharrell, The Weeknd, Drake, Gunna and 21 Savage, ASTROWORLD has quickly won rave reviews. James posted a workout video approving of Drake’s verse on the magnificently hard-hitting “SICKO MODE.”
I tried to show ’em, yeah / I tried to show ’em, yeah, yeah …
Since announcing his candidacy in 2015, Trump has stirred the pot in the world of sports. The Trump/James collision course has been in motion for years, although tensions weren’t always so forthright. Case in point is this June 2003 photo of Trump, Melania Trump and James’ mother, Gloria, at the NBA draft. Or that time in 2010 when Trump tried to coax James to join the New York Knicks. Other interactions, moments and coincidences include:
May 11, 2015 — Trump calls James a “great competitor” after his game-winning 3 in Chicago. It was Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Two years earlier, he referred to James as a “great guy” after James scored Athlete of the Year at The ESPYS. And a year before that, Trump was rooting for James and his Miami Heat.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 12, 2012
July 18, 2016 — Nearly a month to the day after James, Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers brought Cleveland its first pro sports title in 52 years, Trump takes his victory lap at the Republican National Convention — also in Cleveland.
Oct. 12, 2016 — James disavows Trump’s “locker room talk” in response to the Entertainment Tonight clip that featured The Apprentice star saying, among other things, “I moved on her like a b—-, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married. … Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything.”
Oct. 2, 2016 — James officially endorses Trump’s political foe Hillary Clinton, saying, “Only one person running truly understands the struggles of an Akron child born into poverty. And when I think about the kinds of policies and ideas the kids in my foundation need from our government, the choice is clear.”
Nov. 6, 2016 — James and then-teammate J.R. Smith appear onstage with Clinton at a Cleveland rally.
Nov. 9, 2016 — James takes to Instagram the morning after Trump’s victory. “Minorities and Women in all please know that this isn’t the end, it’s just a very challenging obstacle that we will overcome!!” he wrote with Kendrick Lamar’s battle cry “Alright” as his soundtrack. “The man above will never put something in our paths that we can’t handle no matter how difficult it may feel/be! To all the youth out there I PROMISE I’ll continue to lead u guys every single day without no hesitation!!” Note the “I Promise” being in all caps also.
View this post on Instagram
As I woke up today looking and searching for answers on what has happened this song hit it right on the head! If we continue the faith(as hard as it may be to do so) we will BE ALRIGHT!! Parents and leaders of our children please let them know they can still change the world for the better! Don't lose a bit of faith! They're our future and we must remain stronger than ever!! Yes we all wanna lace up the boots, put on the hard hats and strike but that's not the answer. Love, genuine LOVE and FAITH will be the only thing that can get us through this. Minorities and Women in all please know that this isn't the end, it's just a very challenging obstacle that we will overcome!! The man above will never put something in our paths that we can handle no matter how difficult it may feel/be! To all the youth out there I PROMISE I'll continue to lead u guys every single day without no hesitation!! Time to educate and even more mold my children into being the greatest model citizens they can become in life! They will continue the legacy beyond life! Lastly, Even if whos now in office doesn't, Know that I LOVE YOU'LL!!!
Nov. 10, 2016 — The Cavs visit then-President Barack Obama, marking the last time an NBA championship team has visited the White House.
Nov. 11, 2016 — James reluctantly moves forward in a world with Trump as president. “I mean, he’s our president. And no matter if you agree with it or disagree with it, he’s the guy, and we all have to figure out a way that we can make America as great as it can be,” he said. “We all have to figure out a way that we can better our country because we all know that, and we all feel it. This is the best country in the world, so we all have to do our part. It’s not about him at all. Especially not for me, and what I do.”
Sept. 23, 2017 — The “bum” tweet heard ’round the world (and among the year’s most retweeted):
U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain't going! So therefore ain't no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!
— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 23, 2017
July 30 — James sits down with Don Lemon for CNN interview.
— Don Lemon (@donlemon) August 4, 2018
In short, James, the kid from the mud of Akron, is the started-from-the-bottom American success story that Trump has fancied as his own, since forever. And Trump’s recent tweet is evidence of James’ point about the president using sports as a divisive tactic, and as a way to skirt around issues at hand by igniting a smoke screen — this administration’s version of James’ vaunted chase-down block. And Trump really did bring Jordan into it. It felt like he couldn’t resist. Since James became a teenage celebrity shortly after the turn of the century, he and Jordan have been kindred spirits. The widely accepted greatest of all time and the supernatural kid from Ohio who might overtake the man he grew up idolizing.
And as James’ résumé has ballooned into the one-of-one spreadsheet it is, the Jordan/James debate has only intensified, and Trump’s tweet placed Jordan in an awkward position. He is a basketball god, a man whose on-court legacy needs no security detail. But among the differences in the legacies of these two titans is James’ willingness to use his platforms as spaces of change while still the league’s top dog. Among Jordan’s core commitments, as with James, is education in underserved black communities, but Jordan’s more-than-an-athlete life is often and unfairly summed up in an unsubstantiated quote about Republicans and sneakers.
During Muhammad Ali’s exile, The Champ battled the government. And so this current moment is unprecedented. Never before has a sitting president and an athlete of James’ caliber been so publicly at odds. Trump’s failed divide-and-conquer tactics do, however, make for a fascinating possibility — Jordan and James joining forces somehow.
What if, despite an ongoing, unsolvable NBA debate with them at the epicenter, their names become linked not just at the bar or barbershop in Who Is The Best Athlete arguments but also among those who most changed the world for the better? Imagine if they became teammates, after all.