The president of the United States, a former reality star, is now involved in yet another celebrity feud. On Saturday morning, President Trump bashed Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, who had previously expressed opposition to the title-winning team visiting the White House, as NBA champions usually do. The president tweeted: "Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!" Later, Curry's fellow NBA superstar Lebron James hit back at Trump on Twitter, calling him a "bum" and remarking that visiting the White House was an honor "until you showed up."
The tweet quickly blew up the world of Twitter, combining the vibrant communities of NBA Twitter and political Twitter into a shared appreciation of the Cleveland Cavaliers small forward's excellent dunking skills. In under two hours, James' tweet received over 400,000 likes and 200,000 retweets, making it at least four times as popular as the president's tweet it was responding to.
The whole spat comes the day after the president had previously taken aim at other black athletes, bashing NFL players like Colin Kaepernick who have been kneeling during the national anthem before games as a form of nonviolent protest against racism and police brutality. At a rally in Alabama ostensibly supporting Republican Senate candidate Luther Strange (Trump at one point wondered if endorsing Strange had been a mistake), the president said the NFL should "get that son of a bitch off the field" if players continued to protest.
For many, the pairing of Trump's attacks on Curry with Trump's attacks on protesting NFL players, combined with the White House having called for ESPN host Jemele Hill to be fired, suggested that his comments about sports might have something specific to do with race, especially considering how much tougher his criticism of black athletes had been than of white supremacists marching in Charlottesville last month. By the following morning, it seems that professional athletes were ready to hit back.
LeBron's tweet was soon bolstered by other players joining in to blast the president.
And meanwhile, seemingly everyone on Twitter joined in with what Twitter does best — make jokes:
Seriously, so many jokes. It seems that everyone who cares about politics, sports, or racial dynamics in American culture were out in force on Twitter Saturday morning.
Beyond simply becoming a moment in cyberspace, it looks like the president's decision to go to war with the world of pro sports (or perhaps just the non-white parts of it) could have real repercussions even off of Twitter. The NFL Players Association released a statement about the president's comments Friday night, calling them "a slap in the face to the civil rights heroes of the past and the present."
And according to activist and journalist Shaun King, we can expect the NFL anthem protests to only increase in size in response to the attack on them by the president.
This is not the first time that Trump's actions have put him at odds with parts of American society that are normally viewed as closer to nonpartisan. Back in August, CEOs of many of America's biggest businesses protested the president's response to a white supremacist terror attack in Charlottesville by resigning from his business leader councils.
This is of course not the first (and certainly won't be the last) time that athletes have become flash-points in political and cultural battles — think back to Muhammad Ali, or Jesse Owens. But it's clear that between attacks on the NFL and NBA players, and the response of those players to the president, pro sports have entered the political arena.