INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — The chaos of an incredible NBA offseason behind him, LeBron James returned to center stage. As usual, he didn’t disappoint.
Speaking for the first time since losing in the NBA Finals, James discussed topics ranging from his future in Cleveland to a possible reunion with Dwayne Wade to a deep distaste for President Donald Trump on Monday during a free-wheeling, 45-minute news conference that served as the three-time champion’s State of the Game address.
James grabbed the microphone and took off. This wasn’t media day, this was his day. He was dominant:
— On Trump, who touched off a storm of protests across the NFL for saying owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem: “He doesn’t understand how many kids, no matter the race, look up to the president of the United State for guidance, for leadership, for words of encouragement. He doesn’t understand that, and that’s what makes me more sick than anything.”
James refused to back off calling Trump “a bum” on Twitter .
— On former teammate Kyrie Irving, who demanded a trade and was dealt to Boston: “I tried to give him everything and give him as much of the DNA as I could. At some point, when he was ready to take over the keys, I was ready to give them to him. So, the only thing I’m upset about is he took a lot of the DNA and a lot of the blueprint to Boston.”
— On former Miami teammate Wade possibly coming to Cleveland: “I would love to have D-Wade a part of this team. I think he brings another championship pedigree, championship DNA. He brings another player to the team who can get guys involved, can make plays and also has a great basketball mind. I think it would be great to have him here.”
— On previous statements that he will finish his career with Cleveland: “It hasn’t changed. And that’s why I sit up here today, still in this uniform, still ready to lead this franchise to a championship, put us in a position where we can be successful.”
— On the NFL’s response to Trump and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who initiated the kneeling protests last year to bring attention to police brutality against minorities. “There was no divide. Even from that guy that continues to try to divide us as people. … I salute Colin Kaepernick for being as powerful as he was and being the one who had to fall on his sword, unfortunately. I wish I owned an NFL team right now; I’d sign him today.”
The 32-year-old laughed several times during his question-and-answer period, and there were more than a few moments when James’ mood turned serious as he tackled his bitterness toward Trump, whom he attacked with his tweet during a weekend when U.S. politics and sports collided.
James has been critical of Trump in the past, referring to him this summer as the “so-called president” following the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.
James plays in a state that helped vote Trump into the White House, but the four-time MVP said that has no bearing on whether he’ll speak up on issues or affect his work in the community.
“Even though this state voted for Trump, that doesn’t stop me inspiring the people of this state and inspiring the youth,” James said. “Because I would be even more at wrong if I started to pound the people of Ohio. That makes zero sense. My job is and my calling is much bigger than that guy.
“I don’t even like saying his name. So while I have this platform, I will continue to inspire the state of Ohio not only by what I do on the floor but also by putting 1,300 kids into school and spending almost $45 million.”
As for basketball, James thinks the Cavaliers are poised to make another title run.
Irving may be gone, but Cleveland’s front office filled the point-guard hole with Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose, who impressed his new teammates during pre-camp workouts last week in Santa Barbara, California.
Rose is healthy again after undergoing several surgeries on his knees.
“I’m back in a winning environment,” said Rose, who spent last season in New York. “Everybody that’s here has one common goal and that’s to win the championship. That’s something I’ve been wanting my entire career — the opportunity to play for a championship.
“I’m 28, people act like I’m 38.”
James saved some of his most glowing comments for Rose.
“The kid has a lot to prove from competing against him for so many years, especially in Miami when he was in Chicago and knowing the competitor he’s been over the years,” James said. “Been a fan of him for a long time, and I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be a teammate of his.”
Before he left the dais, James called the summer “probably the best NBA offseason that I’ve ever seen.”
“And I wasn’t a part of it that much. That’s the pretty cool thing.”
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball