During a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum over the weekend, NBA commissioner Adam Silver stood in support of Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri and several players who blasted President Donald Trump for racist remarks he made during an immigration policy meeting last week.
“I certainly understand how upset he is as an immigrant to this country and Canada,” Silver told ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk when asked about Ujiri and others in the NBA who admonished the president. “I think for him, someone who does so much in his daily life to improve the life of Africans through his personal foundation, through our Basketball Without Borders program, it is discouraging. But Masai will not in any way be deterred from the work he is doing just as the league won’t be.”
When lawmakers brought up protection for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries at last week’s meeting, Trump asked, per The Washington Post: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” The president then reportedly wondered aloud why the United States is not importing people from places like Norway instead of those predominantly non-white nations.
These allegations amount to blatant racism, and Ujiri, a Nigeria native, called Trump on it last week.
“I don’t think it’s fair, and I don’t think it’s what inspiring leadership can be,” Ujiri told ESPN. “What sense of hope are we giving people if you are calling where they live — and where they’re from — a shithole?
“We have to inspire people and give them a sense of hope. We need to bring people along, not ridicule and tear them down. This cannot be the message that we accept from the leader of the free world.
“Just because someone lives in a hut, that doesn’t mean that isn’t a good person, that that person can’t do better, that person isn’t capable of being great. And just because it’s a hut — whatever that means — doesn’t mean it’s not a home. God doesn’t put anyone someplace permanently. I am a living testimony to that. If I grew up in a shithole, I am proud of my shithole.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) confirmed Trump’s remarks. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reportedly did as well. Trump denied using racially charged language to describe Haiti, instead saying on Twitter: “Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country.” He did not mention El Salvador and Africa.
Golden State Warriors forward David West was among the most vocal of players who also took issue with the president’s remarks, citing passages from “The History of the Indies” to illustrate how Haiti’s economic struggles resulted from the 16th-century slave trade and systemic oppression thereafter:
When asked about his racist comments over the weekend, Trump told reporters from his golf club in Palm Beach, Florida, “No, I’m not a racist. I’m the least racist person you have ever interviewed.”
To which NBA legend, civil rights activist and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Bill Russell said:
The most insidious type of #racist labels countries full of black and brown people #shitholes one day, while purporting to honor a civil rights hero the next @realdonaldtrump #mlkday @Lawrence #USA We are better than this @JoyAnnReid @MSNBC #racismhasnologic https://t.co/0ubIQu5ktc
— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) January 15, 2018
This is not the first time Trump has been accused of racism. After facing decades of criticism before being elected president, he came under fire more recently for saying “there were very fine people on both sides” of a white nationalist rally that was met with protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, and then describing black athletes who kneel in support of racial equality during the national anthem as “sons of bitches” who deserve to be fired. NBA personnel were among his biggest critics in both instances.
Trump’s reported remarks came a day before the eighth anniversary of the devastating earthquake that rocked Haiti and just three days before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 50 years after his assassination.
So it was that Warriors coach Steve Kerr was asked what he believed Dr. King would think of Trump:
Steve Kerr on what Dr. Martin Luther King would think about today’s society: “He would be less than inspired by the leadership in our country. No doubt about that.”
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) January 15, 2018
Over the weekend, Silver and NBPA executive director Michele Roberts toured the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated. It is there that they were asked about the president’s racism.
Powerful image of @daldridgetnt today at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. He's been to balcony of the Lorraine Motel before but anyone who has visited the place where Martin Luther King was assassinated knows it's impossible not to be moved (via Jim Weber) pic.twitter.com/yz2hOmBplJ
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) January 15, 2018
NBA front office personnel, executives, coaches and players were also highly critical of Trump’s immigration policy after he proposed a ban immigrants from seven mostly Muslim nations last year.
In addition to the NBA’s tributes paid on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the league officially launched its NBA Voices initiative “to address social injustice, promote inclusion, uplift voices and bridge divides in our communities.” According to the website launched on Monday, the NBA has supported more than 200 community-outreach programs in 26 cities, enlisted more than 40,000 mentors and connected more than 10,000 young people with law enforcement in the almost two years since LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul stressed the importance of such work at the ESPYs.
Many of those same communities were described thusly by Trump during a 2016 presidential debate: “Our inner cities, African Americans, Hispanics are living in hell because it’s so dangerous.”
So, while the commissioner and the NBA’s executives, coaches and players again spent the weekend reprimanding a sitting president for his racist remarks, perhaps none of them were surprised.
“For us to stand here right now, even though we’re trying to be divided by somebody, it’s a great day for people to realize how we all have to stand united as one,” LeBron said on Monday, hailing MLK Day as an opportunity to unite, despite Trump’s attempts to divide. “As Americans, we all know and believe this is the greatest country.”
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