Donald Trump has branded the NBA a “political organisation”, as protests intensified over the shooting of a black man by police in Wisconsin.
The US president weighed in after players and teams from the top tiers of basketball, baseball, soccer, and tennis refused to participate in games scheduled on Wednesday night.
Their actions follow the Milwaukee Bucks sitting out a top-flight basketball match earlier this week over the attack on Jacob Blake – a 29-year-old black man who did not appear to be carrying a weapon when he was shot in the back several times by a police officer in the city of Kenosha on Sunday.
The incident was captured in a graphic video filmed by a bystander across the street, leading to protests – some of which have erupted into rioting and looting.
It comes just months after the death of George Floyd, and at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has continued to gain prominence across the US and around the world.
NBA players and coaches met for nearly three hours earlier this week to discuss if the season can continue, as they continue not to play until politicians act to address police brutality.
The US basketball association had managed to make a successful comeback after the sport was suspended due to coronavirus back in March.
Its first revamped games of the impeded 2019-20 season took place at the end of July, with the players and coaches having been kept in a bubble at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
While Mr Trump admitted he did not know much about the shooting of Mr Blake, he laid in to the basketball league teams’ actions.
“They’ve become like a political organisation and that’s not a good thing,” he said on Thursday. “I don’t think that’s a good thing for sports or for the country.”
The president previously criticised NFL players for protesting over police brutality in the US, urging team owners to sack stars who took a knee – the movement started by Colin Kaepernick.
Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, also called the recent demonstrations “absurd and silly”.
“If they want to protest, I don’t think we care,” he said.
He even accused the NBA of having “embraced the Communist Party” for not taking similar action over China‘s alleged human rights violations and imposing a new security law on Hong Kong.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner added: “NBA players are very fortunate that they have the financial position where they’re able to take a night off from work without having to have the consequences to themselves financially.
“I do think that peaceful protest has a place and it has importance.
“But I do think that what we need to do right now is make sure that we take the anger that people have and we have to move from slogans to constructive solutions.”
LA Lakers star LeBron James, widely considered to be one of the greatest players in NBA history, tweeted: “Change doesn’t happen with just talk!!
“It happens with action and needs to happen NOW! … It’s on US to make a difference.”
James is backing the More Than A Vote campaign, which is encouraging Black Americans to register to vote ahead of the US presidential election on 3 November.
Democratic nominee Joe Biden has said the shots fired at Mr Blake “pierce the soul of the nation.”
Mr Blake is still fighting for his life – he is in a critical condition at hospital.