Twitter lit up with criticism against President Donald Trump after he took aim at NBA star LeBron James on Friday night.
In an interview that aired on CNN last Monday, James and CNN host Don Lemon discussed politics and James’ recent opening of a school for underprivileged children .
James, who has been critical of Trump in the past, said during the interview that Trump was using sports to sow divisions in the US.
“He’s dividing us,” James said. “What I noticed over the last few months that he’s kind of used sport to kind of divide us, and that’s something that I can’t relate to. Because I know that sport was the first time I ever was around someone white.”
Trump hit back at James and Lemon, calling the latter “the dumbest man on television.” He added that Lemon “made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do.”
The president wrapped up the tweet by declaring, “I like Mike!” The statement was likely a reference to NBA legend Michael Jordan, James’ competitor in the debate over who the greatest NBA player of all time is.
According to NBC News , Jordan released a statement through a spokesperson that said, “I support LJ. He’s doing an amazing job for his community.”
Trump’s tweet comes less than a week after James opened the school in his home town of Akron, Ohio. James said the school prioritizes a holistic experience for students that include sports, which he described as critical for healthy communities.
Athletes, politicians come to James’ defense
Many of James’ fellow supporters from the NBA leapt to his defense after the president took aim at him.
Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves told Trump to “stop using them twitter fingers” and focus on other matters of national importance.
Utah jazz player Donovan Mitchell referred to Trump as an “insecure human being” and accused him of setting a bad example to the country.
Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Anthony Tolliver called the president’s statements an “embarrassment.”
Through a spokesperson , Michael Jordan said, “I support LJ. He’s doing an amazing job for his community.”
Lemon himself also chimed in and brought up the Trump administration’s widely criticized “zero tolerance” immigration policy that resulted in thousands of migrant families being separated, with many held in cages and detention centers. “Who’s the real dummy?” Lemon asked.
CNN’s communications team referenced recent reports that Trump grew enraged when first lady Melania Trump watched CNN aboard Air Force One. It also tacked on the hashtag, “Be Best,” to its tweet. The hashtag is the slogan for the first lady’s childhood welfare initiative.
The first lady’s spokesperson said in a statement to CNN amid the controversy that “it looks like LeBron James is working to do good things on behalf of our next generation and just as she always has, the First Lady encourages everyone to have an open dialogue about issues facing children today.”
“As you know, Mrs. Trump has traveled the country and world talking to children about their well-being, healthy living, and the importance of responsible online behavior with her Be Best initiative,” the statement continued. “Her platform centers around visiting organizations, hospitals and schools, and she would be open to visiting the I Promise School in Akron.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich also backed James, including a statement disputing Trump’s vote on the greatest NBA player of all time.
The history of James v. Trump
James has been a vocal critic of Trump since he took office.
In one highly discussed tweet, James called Trump a “bum” and criticized him for deciding to rescind an invitation for the Golden State Warriors, the most recent NBA champions, to visit the White House. Trump rescinded the invite after Warriors point guard Stephen Curry said he would not go.
But their relationship on Twitter hasn’t always been so fraught. Trump tweeted in 2013 to call James a “great guy” after he won 2013’s Athlete of the Year ESPY award.