WASHINGTON — Just hours after the highly anticipated White House visit of president-elect Donald Trump on Thursday, President Barack Obama got visitors he probably enjoyed a little bit more, hosting the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
“That’s right I said ‘world champion’ and Cleveland in the same sentence,” quipped Obama on the South Lawn. “That’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about hope and change.”
A Chicago sports fan, Obama added that beating the Warriors in the championship series “cemented the 1996 Bulls as the greatest team of all time.”
“I also – before I go any further – want to give a special thanks to J.R. Smith’s shirt for showing up. I wasn’t sure if it was going to make an appearance today,” he said of the player who famously went shirtless for much of the post championship celebrations.
Obama praised the team’s charity work as well as players’ using their platforms to speak out on political issues. Earlier Thursday, the team met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch to discuss the relationship between law enforcement and the Cleveland Community.
While not mentioned at the ceremony, players took to social media to criticize Trump and cast doubt over the prospect of an NBA team coming to visit a Trump White House.
Yesterday, Cavalier player Richard Jefferson posted on Snapchat: “Words cannot express the honor I feel being the last team to visit the White House tomorrow.”
LeBron James, who was one of four players at the ESPY Awards in July to open the show with a call to end gun violence and racial profiling, posted on Instagram Wednesday: “Minorities and Women in all please know that this isn’t the end, it’s just a very challenging obstacle that we will overcome!!”
Ohio governor John Kasich who was in attendance for the ceremony held an impromptu press conference outside of the west wing to members of the media who were huddled awaiting statements from the players.
“Today I said my prayers on the plane for the success of Donald Trump and I think as Americans we all need to come together,” said the former presidential candidate with his arms around his two daughters.
Tyronn Lue the head coach of Cavaliers, when asked about players’ activism said that as a player “you have the freedom to do what you want. Whatever you believe in whatever you support you have the right to do that.”
Teams can sometimes wait a year before being honored at the White House but in June when the Cavaliers won, Obama made a point to invite the Cleveland basketball team before his term ended, which Lue quickly accepted.
“It was important for me, having the first black president, our team and the NBA being 85-90% black having a chance to experience this,” said Lue who brought his mom on Thursday.
Lue said he’d be happy to be back next year and that he hadn’t talked with his team whether that would change given the next president.