US first lady Melania Trump has stepped away from her husband’s criticism of basketballer LeBron James to compliment the NBA star’s work on behalf of children and even offer to visit his school for at-risk children.
- James says he would consider running for president if he was the only one to stop Mr Trump’s re-election
- James opened a school for underprivileged children in Ohio, where Mr Trump is heading for a campaign rally
- James has long been critical of Mr Trump, calling him a “bum” in 2017
“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,” Ms Trump’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said in a statement.
The statement’s tone was in stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s tweet following James’s appearance on CNN, in which he told journalist Don Lemon that he “would never sit across” from Mr Trump, whom James has criticised in the past.
Donald Trump tweet: 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!
The interview took place at James’s I Promise school, a new elementary school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.
The school, which is a joint effort of the LeBron James Family Foundation and Akron Public Schools, will benefit at-risk children.
Ms Trump would be open to visiting the school as part of her Be Best initiative, according to her spokeswoman’s statement.
Mr Trump is traveling to Ohio on Saturday (local time) for a campaign rally.
Ms Trump has stood apart from her husband’s views before.
In June, when migrant families entering the US illegally were being separated at the US-Mexico border under Trump administration policies, she said through her spokeswoman that she “hated” to see the separations and that she believed the US needed to be a country that “follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”
NBA stars react to Trump’s criticism
Mr Trump ended his tweet attacking James by saying “I like Mike!” — an apparent reference to the debate over whether Michael Jordan or James is the greatest National Basketball Association (NBA) player of all time.
Following the comments, Jordan released a response through his spokesperson expressing support for James, saying “I support L.J.”, adding “He’s doing an amazing job for his community.”
Lemon also responded to the President, invoking both the administration’s forced-family-separations policy and Ms Trump’s social media etiquette campaign.
“Who’s the real dummy? A man who puts kids in classrooms or one who puts kids in cages? #BeBest” Lemon tweeted.
Mr Trump’s attack on James received widespread condemnation from NBA players, with athletes such as Stephen Curry expressing support for the Los Angeles Lakers star.
Donovan Mitchell tweet
Karl Anthony Towns
Stephen Curry tweet
In his interview with Lemon, James said he would consider running for president if he believed he was the only person who could stop Mr Trump from being re-elected.
James spoke of sports as something that unites people, and added that the President was “using sports to kinda divide us”.
Mr Trump has repeatedly and strongly criticised the National Football League (NFL) in particular for not punishing players who kneel during the national anthem in a form of protest.
“Sports has never been something that divides people,” James said during the interview.
“It’s always been something that brings someone together.”
James has previously criticised Mr Trump on several occasions, publicly supporting Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton before the 2016 election and calling Mr Trump a “bum” in September 2017, after the President rescinded an invitation to the Golden State Warriors to visit the White House after winning the NBA title.
“Going to the White House was a great honour until you showed up!” James tweeted at the time.
Mr Trump’s first comments about the NFL and players who protest during the anthem came later that month.