WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday the NBA has become like “a political organization,” criticizing the league the day after player protests over police brutality led to the postponement of playoff games.
Senior White House officials had previously suggested the protests were unconstructive and hypocritical given the league’s relative silence on human rights abuses in China, where American professional basketball has a wide audience. The president said in a radio interview this month that NBA players were “very mean” and “very stupid” for taking a knee during the national anthem to protest social injustice.
The Milwaukee Bucks kicked off the boycott on Wednesday by refusing to leave their locker room for the game against the Orlando Magic. Players are demanding lawmakers take action to address police brutality and racial injustice. The NBA announced that the playoffs scheduled for Thursday were postponed, but the league hoped to resume play Friday or Saturday.
“They’ve become like a political organization, and that’s not a good thing,” Trump told reporters Thursday, noting that league ratings were down from previous seasons. “I don’t think it’s a good thing for the sport or for the country.”
Trump, who was scheduled to deliver his renomination acceptance speech Thursday night at a scaled-back Republican National Convention, has made restoring “law and order” to cities a centerpiece of his campaign during the summer of sometimes violent protests following the death of George Floyd, a black man whose killing by Minneapolis police in late May sparked national unrest.
Earlier Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff said in an interview with CNN that the NBA protests sparked by the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, are “absurd and silly” compared to to their response to human rights abuses in China. .
Last month, the NBA faced scathing criticism from Republicans after an ESPN report that young participants in a league program in China were physically beaten by Chinese instructors and not given appropriate schooling.
Short also questioned why league players and coaches have largely refrained from criticizing human rights abuses in China and expressing support for Hong Kong. In a separate MSNBC interview on Thursday, Short said the NBA “has embraced the Communist Party.”
“There’s a contrast to the positions they’ve taken,” Short said.
The league and its players have been outspoken in their calls for reforms in the wake of Floyd’s murder. The NBA has even integrated its support for the Black Lives Matter movement into player uniforms and advertising. Trump called the move a “symbol of hate.”
“NBA players are very lucky to have the financial situation where they can take a night off without having to suffer the financial consequences,” senior White House adviser Jared Kushner told CNBC on Thursday.
In a separate appearance at an event hosted by Politico, Kushner said he plans to reach out to Los Angles Lakers star LeBron James, a vocal advocate for changes in policing.
“Look, I think peaceful protest has its place and it matters,” Kushner said. “But I think what we need to do now is make sure we take people’s anger and we need to move from slogans to constructive solutions.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, a Trump ally, told Fox News that NBA players’ reaction to the Kenosha incident was “premature.”
“We shouldn’t jump to conclusions until we have all the facts,” Cotton, R-Ark, said.
Not everyone in Trump’s circle was critical of the NBA player movement. The Magic, which is owned by the family of Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, released a statement saying it stands united with the players and the league in “condemning bigotry, racial injustice and unwarranted use of violence by police against people of color”.