US President Donald Trump has criticised protests by athletes in a series of tweets that outraged football and basketball stars and even prompted LeBron James to call the President a “bum.”
Mr Trump announced that Stephen Curry, the popular two-time most-valuable basketball player for the Golden State Warriors, would not be welcome at the White House for the commemorative visit traditionally made by championship teams.
“Going to the White House is considered a great honour for a championship team,” Mr Trump tweeted.
“Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”
Later, Mr Trump reiterated what he said at a rally in Alabama the previous night that NFL players who kneel in protest during the US national anthem should be “fired”, prompting immediate condemnation from several team executives, the league commissioner and its players’ union.
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The Warriors said it was made clear to them that they were not welcome at the White House.
They said that when they go to Washington this season they will instead “celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion – the values that we embrace as an organisation”.
Curry had said he did not want to go to the White House anyway, but the Warriors had not made a collective decision before Saturday.
“You bum, Stephen Curry already said he ain’t going!” James tweeted in a clear message to the President.
“So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honour until you showed up!”
James also released a video on Saturday, saying Mr Trump has tried to divide the country.
“He’s now using sports as the platform to try to divide us,” James said.
“We all know how much sports brings us together … It’s not something I can be quiet about.”
The Warriors’ general manager Bob Myers said he was surprised by the invitation being pulled, while Golden State coach Steve Kerr, quipped: “These are not normal times”.
Mr Trump’s latest entry into the intersection of sports and politics was sparked by NFL players who refused to stand for The Star-Spangled Banner which Mr Trump described as exhibiting a “total disrespect of our heritage”.
Several NFL players, starting last season with then-San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have either knelt, sat or raised fists during the anthem to protest police treatment of African-Americans and social injustice.
Last week at NFL games, four players sat or knelt during the anthem and two raised their fists, while others stood by the protesters in support.
Mr Trump said: “That’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for.”
Other celebrities including singer Stevie Wonder have joined in the Take A Knee protest against Mr Trump’s attack.
During a performance at the Global Citizens Festival in New York’s Central Park on Saturday night, Wonder said he was “taking a knee for America”. His stance was met with cheers from the audience, before saying a prayer for “our planet, our future, our leaders of our world”.