LOS ANGELES — If President Donald Trump was trying to drive a wedge between LeBron James and Michael Jordan, he failed.
On Saturday, Jordan ignored Trump’s praise of him and said he has James’ back.
“I support LeBron James. He’s doing an amazing job for his community,” Jordan said through a spokesman.
Trump insulted both James and CNN host Don Lemon in a tweet on Friday night following the re-airing of an interview on “CNN Tonight.”
The interview focused on James’ contributions to his hometown of Akron, Ohio, including a new public school for at-risk third- and fourth-graders there. But the two men also discussed politics. James told Lemon that Trump has used athletics and athletes to divide the country.
“I can’t sit back and say nothing,” James said.
Shortly before midnight, Trump shot back: “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!” the President added in what appeared to be a reference to the ongoing debate on who’s the greatest NBA player of all time, James or Jordan.
Trump’s insult led Lemon to ask in a tweet Saturday morning: “Who’s the real dummy? A man who puts kids in classrooms or one who puts kids in cages?”
Lemon added the hashtag #BeBest, a reference to first lady Melania Trump’s initiative to support kindness and respect.
The James sit-down was a big scoop for Lemon, who hosts “CNN Tonight” on weekday evenings.
Trump’s insulting response was curious for several reasons. He has praised James in the past, repeatedly calling him a great player and a “great guy.” Those tweets were back in 2013 and 2015.
More recently, in 2017, Trump claimed on Twitter that “I never watch Don Lemon.”
His insistence that he doesn’t watch CNN is frequently contradicted by his complaints about the network.
The New York Times reported last week that Trump was enraged when he boarded Air Force One and saw the first lady’s TV set was tuned to CNN. He evidently wanted all TV sets tuned to Fox News. In response, Melania Trump’s spokeswoman said she will watch “any channel she wants.”
CNN’s public relations department made a sly reference to that brouhaha in response to Trump’s insult on Saturday morning.
“Sounds like @FLOTUS had the remote last night,” @CNNPR wrote. “We hope you both saw the incredible work of @KingJames.”
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
Some Trump critics denounced Trump’s tweet as another display of racism by the President. Acclaimed sportswriter Bill Simmons wrote that James is a “smart dude” and “one of the most thoughtful athletes we have.” He said Trump’s jab “feels more than a little racist.”
James also made a reference to football player Colin Kaepernick, whose kneeling protests launched an NFL movement, and fellow NBA star Stephen Curry, who last year said he would not visit the White House after the Golden State Warriors won the championship, prompting the President to disinvite him.
Ohio Governor Josh Kasich always weighted in on Trump’s tweet. “We should be celebrating him for his charity work and effort to help kids,” Kasich said.
Rather than criticizing @KingJames, we should be celebrating him for his charity work and efforts to help kids.
By the way, all-around he’s better than Michael Jordan. That’s a fact.
— John Kasich (@JohnKasich) August 4, 2018
“He’s trying to divide our sport, but at the end of the day, sport is the reason why we all come together,” James said.
When Lemon asked, “What would you say to the President if he was sitting right here?” James said “I would never sit across from him.” He added: “I’d sit across from Barack, though.”