[Editor’s note: While we don’t normally comment on political issues at Mavs Moneyball, this story is made relevant by so much of the sports community galvanizing around this issue. We ask that you be thoughtful in your comments. Anything that is disrespectful, rude or a personal attack will be deleted.]
Over the weekend, the country was once again galvanized by remarks made by President Donald Trump on Twitter. This tweet was not about a foreign power or political foe, however. It was directed at the Golden State Warriors and All-Star Stephen Curry. As is customary after winning an NBA Championship, the team was invited to the White House. The President, however, canceled their invitation.
The reaction to the tweet was swift. Many players took offense to the President’s comments, including LeBron James who referred to the President as “U bum.” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, an outspoken critic of the President, also chimed in.
“If the president's going to say something condemning a person, an industry, a sport, then he's got to be able to take the blowback that's going to come back,” Cuban told NBC News’ Chuck Todd. “So LeBron and Steph and any athlete, any owner, it's an open door now, and so they have every right for the same reasons to be able to say whatever’s on their mind. Now we'll be able to see if he can take it.”
So far, the President has not directly confronted any of the individuals that have come out in defense of Curry but he continues to have hash words for NFL players. Though Curry plays in the NBA, Trump’s attack on the Warriors’ star is part his larger message, discouraging ongoing protests in the NFL began by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Harrison Barnes, who played with Curry for four seasons in Golden State, was taken aback by President Trump’s comments about his former teammate and offered some clarification for those, like the President, who are misinterpreting the protests seen now across sports.
“It was surprising with everything going on in the world that he would take the time to single out Steph’s White House invite,” Barnes said. “Not Steph specifically, the White House invite. It was bizarre but at the end of the day it’s a little sad that a year after Kaepernick takes that knee, we’re still not talking about the actual issue which he took the knee for: Police brutality, systematic racism, things like that. It’s unfortunate that we’re still taking about kneelings and the anthem and it’s made more about Trump than what the actual cause was.”
Rookie Dennis Smith Jr. joined Barnes, reiterating that message.
“I think the whole concept of the anthem protests got misconstrued because it didn’t have anything to do with the military or the President or anything of that nature,” Smith Jr. said. “It was about police brutality on mostly blacks and there was no justice served. That’s what it was all about.”
Indeed, the President has used his bully pulpit to distort the meaning of the protests, making it more about false patriotism than the injustice African American communities are subject to on a daily basis. However, some see the protests as an affront to those that serve and fight for the country. Barnes refutes that notion.
“During the Olympics, I had a chance — well, the team had a chance really — to be around a lot of people who had served our country — military, or people who had lost family members in wars and stuff like that,” Barnes said. “And they were fighting for the right to protest if you choose to. They were fighting for us to have the ability to do what we want to do. I don’t think there’s ever been a lack of respect, at least from myself and the Mavericks the team here, for anybody in that position whatsoever.”
Focusing on the message behind #TakeAKnee, Barnes has a unique perspective on the difficulties that face poor, neglected communities and the children that grow up in them. Over the summer, he held a basketball camp in South Dallas with kids and police officers, including former Dallas Police Chief David Brown, with the aim of building bonds between two seemingly disparate groups who are frequently portrayed as at odds with one another.
“Having police officers and kids interact, I think that interaction is important,” Barnes said. “The very first time a kid interacts with a police officer, it can’t be in a negative light. It can’t be, ‘Put your hands on the steering wheel. Let me see your license and registration.’
“If you can see that person in a normal light, then when you see a police officer then you don’t see someone that’s a bad person you actually see that person for a police officer. Interacting with these kids, not in the circumstances of pulling them over and stuff like that, [the police] see them as a normal kid — ‘I used to be just like you trying to play basketball.’”
If there’s anything good to be gained by the President’s repeated attacks on the protests, even if some choose to ignore their point, it’s that they have created a national dialogue about societal injustice. Whether the Mavericks will participate in the protests has yet to be determined. If they do, however, they have the blessing of head coach Rick Carlisle.
“We told them that we support them 100 percent, whatever they decide to do,” Carlisle said. “My understanding is that they’re going to talk about it and they’re going to decide as a team what the best course of action is, if there is a course of action and they’ll go from there. I support my players.”
As the protests continue, one thing is certain: after John F. Kennedy began the tradition in 1963, the NBA Champions are no longer welcome at this White House. In comments they’ve made, Warriors players aren’t disappointed with the President’s decision. They were never enthusiastic about going. For his part, though, Dirk Nowitzki remembers his visit to the White House in 2012 fondly.
“It was something incredible,” Nowitzki said. “It was something we looked forward to. It was an honor to be there and represent the Mavericks there and give the President his jersey and the ball. That was something I felt really honored to do.”
For now, it appears the honor of the office is tarnished in the eyes of some because of the divisive whims and tweets of the sitting President.