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With LeBron James Tweet, President Trump’s War on Sports Hits a New Low

4 minute read

The missive, sent from the White House at 10:37 p.m. Friday night, delivered nausea to decent people.

On the week LeBron James opened his school serving disadvantaged children from his hometown of Akron, Ohio, giving the kids and their families a singular opportunity — not to mention free college tuition to all who graduate — Donald Trump questioned the intelligence of a bonafide basketball genius. Sports smarts count. Off the court, James has started several businesses — a sports agency, a Hollywood production outfit — and become a meaningful philanthropist. Not to mention that he also possesses a photographic memory: James can recall minute details of basketball games on command.

What a strange target for Trump: one of the brightest, most popular athletes in the world. But facts don’t seem to bother this President. “Lebron (sic) James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon,” Trump tweeted on Friday night, referencing an interview Lemon, the CNN anchor, conducted with James to mark the opening of James’ I Promise School. “He made Lebron (sic) look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!” Here, Trump’s referring to another all-time NBA great, Michael Jordan.

There he goes again, Trump weaponizing sports to divide the country that he leads. To Trump, you either stand with him, or with Colin Kaepernick and any NFL “son of a bitch” — the President’s words — who kneels during the national anthem. Now, besides insulting yet another African-American athlete, Trump’s trying to co-opt the sports bar debate about the greatest basketball player of all-time. Jordan’s now his guy. You either stand with Trump and His Airness, or side with LeBron.

Opponents of the anthem protests complain that athletes are spoiling their sports diversion with politics. Stick to sports, so to say. But if that’s the case, shouldn’t politicians just concern themselves with politics? Mr. President, leave the GOAT talk alone.

James is a harsh critic of the President, which has apparently drawn Trump’s ire. In this interview with Lemon, James said that, “I believe our president is trying to divide us … what I’ve noticed over the last few months is that he’s kind of used sport to kind of divide us. That’s something I can’t relate to, because I know that sports was the first time I was around someone white. I got an opportunity to see them and learn about them, and they got an opportunity to learn about me, and we became very good friends. I was like ‘this is all because of sports.’ And sports has never been something that divided people. It’s always been something that brings someone together.”

In September, after Trump called the NFL players protests social injustice “sons of bitches” at a political rally, and rescinded a White House invitation to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors – even though the Warriors never planned to attend — James called Trump a “bum” on Twitter. If Trump was going to fire back at James, that would have been a more opportune time. But instead of praising an athletic icon for opening a school, Trump basically called James a dummy.

On Saturday morning, Lemon offered a pointed response to Trump. “Who’s the real dummy?” Lemon wrote on Twitter. “A man who puts kids in classrooms or one who puts kids in cages? #BeBest.” James hasn’t responded to Trump’s tweet. He has every right to fire back, of course, but I kind of hope he doesn’t. I hope he saw Trump’s tweet, shook his head, laughed a little, and kept doing the good things he’s doing. Maybe he played hoops with his son; maybe he worked on his own game. Maybe he did some more planning on the I Promise School.

These all speak louder than a President’s Tweet.

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Write to Sean Gregory at sean.gregory@time.com