President Donald Trump criticized LeBron James on Friday, insulting the NBA star's intelligence after James told CNN anchor Don Lemon that he thought the president was trying to divide the country.
“Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!” Trump wrote on Twitter late Friday, an apparent reference to Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan.
However, the retired NBA star threw his support behind James.
"I support L.J.," Jordan told NBC News through his spokesperson. "He's doing an amazing job for his community."
Asked what he would say to Trump if he was sat across from him, James to CNN earlier this week: “I would never sit across from him.” He said he would be open to meeting with former President Barack Obama, however.
James also denied having any political aspirations of his own, until Trump was mentioned as a possible opponent.
"If someone tried to recruit a LeBron to run for president, they said, 'Listen, they've got no one, if you don't run, Trump's going to win,' would you run?" Lemon asked.
"Well, in that case, I may," James responded.
In the interview, which took place after James announced he was creating the I Promise School, an elementary campus to support at-risk children in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, the NBA star also accused the president of trying to use sport to divide America.
“We’re in a position right now in America, more importantly, where this race thing has taken over because I believe our president is kinda trying to divide us,” he said. “What I’ve noticed over the last few months is that he’s kind of used sports to kind of divide us.”
Trump has criticized NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality in the U.S. The president said last month that players should be suspended for a game for kneeling once and suspended for the rest of the season with no pay if they kneel for a second time.
Last September, the president said he felt “ashamed” by “disgraceful” NFL-wide protests. He also said in May that athletes who kneel “maybe shouldn’t be in the country.”
Trump's latest tweet regarding James came hours before he was due to hold an election rally in Ohio, the Laker player's home state, ahead of a special congressional election on Tuesday — the last major partisan electoral test before the November midterms.
This week's war of words was not the first time James and Trump have exchanged fire.
Last September, James called the president a “bum” after Trump withdrew his invitation for the NBA champion Golden State Warriors to visit the White House.
Trump’s decision to pull the traditional visit came after Warriors star Stephen Curry made it clear he thought the team should not attend.
“Going to the White House was a great honor until you showed up!” James tweeted in response.
Trump has also repeatedly criticized Lemon, prompting CNN to issue a statement last year accusing the president of using social media to bully others.
Don Lemon and CNN's public relations team fired back Saturday, taking aim at first lady Melania Trump, who this spring launched her #BeBest children's initiative. It seeks to reduce bullying on social media.
"Who’s the real dummy?" Lemon tweeted. "A man who puts kids in classrooms or one who puts kids in cages? #BeBest."
"Sounds like @FLOTUS had the remote last night. ? We hope you both saw the incredible work of @KingJames. #BeBest," CNN Communications tweeted in response to the president's denigration of Lemon.
The first lady's spokesperson, Stephanie Grisham, responded Saturday.
"It looks like LeBron James is working to do good things on behalf of our next generation and just as she always has, the First Lady encourages everyone to have an open dialogue about issues facing children today," Grisham said.
"As you know, Mrs. Trump has traveled the country and world talking to children about their well-being, healthy living, and the importance of responsible online behavior with her Be Best initiative," she said. "Her platform centers around visiting organizations, hospitals and schools, and she would be open to visiting the I Promise School in Akron."
The Lakers also backed James, who will join the Los Angeles NBA team this year in a deal worth $154 million.
“We could not be more proud to have LeBron James as part of our Lakers family," said CEO and controlling owner Jeanie Buss. "He is an incredibly thoughtful and intelligent leader and clearly appreciates the power that sports has to unite communities and inspire the world to be a better place. Those efforts should be celebrated by all.”