- Alex Wong/Getty Images
- President Donald Trump is back to clashing with sports figures after his trip to Asia.
- Trump lashed out at the bombastic LaVar Ball and NFL running back Marshawn Lynch this weekend.
- The feuds developed as 18 NCAA championship teams visited Trump’s White House.
President Donald Trump returned to a familiar pastime this weekend after returning from a lengthy trip to Asia: clashing with some of the biggest names in the sports world.
Trump’s battles with major figures in the NFL and NBA dominated headlines in late September and through much of October. He lambasted protests that take place during the national anthem, particularly in the NFL. And he revoked Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry’s invitation to visit the White House.
But in recent weeks, it appeared as if Trump had become more detached from sports-centric feuds. Trump waged battles involving Gold Star families, fought with retiring Republican senators, dealt with an escalation in the ongoing Russia probe, sought to promote the GOP’s tax reform legislation, and then hopped aboard Air Force One to spend nearly two weeks on the other side of the globe.
That changed shortly after he landed back home.
Just hours upon returning to the states, Trump ignited what later became a clash with the bombastic, headline-grabbing businessman and overbearing sports parent LaVar Ball, whom Axios once wrote used “the Trump playbook to conquer sports media.”
Trump feuds with the most prominent sports parent, LaVar Ball
Trump’s trip to Asia was befallen by what became an international incident: Three UCLA men’s basketball players – including LiAngelo Ball, LaVar’s son – were arrested in China for shoplifting, later released after Trump pushed Chinese President Xi Jinping to intervene.
“They were headed for 10 years in jail!” Trump claimed. (ESPN reported that people familiar with the case believed it would be settled in less than two weeks.) Right before leaving China. Trump wondered on Twitter whether the released players would “thank” him.
- Sean M. Haffey/Getty
Hours after returning to the states themselves, the UCLA basketball players, including Ball, they did just that, thanking Trump during a press conference.
But the elder Ball – who has gained notoriety for his brash persona as his older son, Lonzo, has developed into a major figure on the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers – didn’t step away. Speaking to ESPN, he minimized Trump’s role in securing the LiAngelo’s release.
“Who?” LaVar said of Trump’s involvement. “What was he over there for? Don’t tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out.”
“As long as my boy’s back here, I’m fine,” he added. “I’m happy with how things were handled.”
Trump seized on this comment and escalated, suggesting that he “should have left” the players “in jail” because Ball was ungrateful for his help.
“Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal,” he tweeted. “I should have left them in jail!”
“Shoplifting is a very big deal in China, as it should be (5-10 years in jail), but not to father LaVar,” he continued in a later tweet. “Should have gotten his son out during my next trip to China instead. China told them why they were released. Very ungrateful!”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump’s tweet was a “rhetorical response to a criticism by the father” and that Trump was “happy” to see their release.
But Ball, not one to avoid such kerfuffles, is scheduled to appear in primetime on CNN Monday night to discuss his feud with the president and presumably, respond to Trump’s latest tweets. History has shown that, depending on what Ball’s response is, people can expect Trump to fire back yet again.
But he’s already taken issue with another sports figure in the meantime.
Back to the anthem protests
In a Monday morning tweet, Trump slammed Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch for sitting during the “Star Spangled Banner” prior to a game against the New England Patriots in Mexico City. Lynch subsequently stood for the Mexican anthem in a move that was almost certain to draw Trump’s attention.
The protests started more than a year ago, when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began sitting – and later taking a knee, which caught on with more players – to protest police brutality and the mistreatment of black Americans in the US.
“Marshawn Lynch of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders stands for the Mexican Anthem and sits down to boos for our National Anthem,” Trump tweeted. “Great disrespect! Next time NFL should suspend him for remainder of season. Attendance and ratings way down.”
Meanwhile, Trump welcomed 18 NCAA championship teams to the White House last week, providing warm welcomes to teams such as Maryland’s championship men’s and women’s lacrosse teams and a co-ed West Virginia rifle squad.
One team that didn’t make the trip? South Carolina’s women’s basketball team, which declined their invitation.