LeBron: No one should use sports to divide people

LeBron: 'The people run this country, not one individual' (1:11)

LeBron James encourages the people of America to come together in today's social and political climate. (1:11)

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- LeBron James on Monday addressed President Donald Trump's comments on sports and protests, talking extensively about the issue and the NFL's response in the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar's latest display of social consciousness.

"First of all, I salute the NFL, the coaches, the players, the owners, the fans. Everyone who had any association with the NFL was unbelievable," James said. "There was no divide. Even from that guy that continues to try to divide us as people.

"The thing that frustrated me, pissed me off: He was using the sports platform to divide us. Sports is so amazing, what sports can do for everyone, no matter shape, size, race. It brings people together like no other. I'm not going to let one individual, no matter the power, the impact he should have, ever use sport as a platform to divide us."

Trump's comments ended up prompting James to come to the side of Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors -- the Cavs' rivals who beat Cleveland in two of the past three NBA Finals.

Referring to Trump as "that guy" on several occasions during his 43-minute news conference, James elaborated on the tweet he posted on Saturday in which he called Trump a "bum" for rescinding his invitation to the Warriors to celebrate their championship with a visit to the White House. This, of course, came after James referred to Trump as the "so-called president" in August.

James' tweet has been retweeted more than 650,000 times -- more than any other tweet ever sent by James.

James said he did not regret the tweet and said that referring to someone as a bum was not what he would define as name-calling.

"Name-calling?" James replied when asked if he had any regrets about how he characterized Trump. "What'd I say? That's not a name-call. 'You bum.' Me and my friends call each other that all the time. I'm not his friend, though. I don't want to see that on the note. He's not my friend."

Trump suggested that NFL players should be "fired" for "disrespecting the flag" when they take a knee or otherwise choose not to participate in the national anthem, using the term "son of a bitch" to describe those engaged in the protest.

James said Trump's conduct is unbecoming of someone in his position, especially considering the example it sets for children.

"He doesn't understand the power that he has for being the leader of this beautiful country," James said. "He doesn't understand how many kids, no matter the race, look up to the president of the United States for guidance, for leadership, for words of encouragement. He doesn't understand that, and that's what makes me more sick than anything, that we have someone that's ... this is the most, this is the No. 1 position in the world."

James was asked about his position as a vocal Trump critic while living in Ohio, a state where Trump won 51 percent of the vote, compared with 43 percent for Hillary Clinton. The Cavs star said Ohio voters got it wrong.

"I don't think a lot of people was educated," James said. "And I think that's one of the biggest problems that we have, that when it becomes vote time, that people are just not educated on either the individual or what's actually going on in the state of the world right now. Not that particular state, but in the state of the world. I don't think a lot of people are educated. And they make choices and say things that are uneducated.

"And I'm saying that the people of Ohio wasn't educated? Am I saying that some of the other states that voted for him was uneducated? They could have been or they could not have been. But that doesn't mean that it was the right choice. ... So for me as a professional athlete in this state, and even though this state voted for Trump, that doesn't stop me inspiring the people of this state and inspiring the youth. Because I would be even more 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 [to do so]."

When asked about an incident at the White House earlier this summer, James called Trump "irrational," referring to the moment Cavs owner Dan Gilbert was called up in front of the cameras during the Chicago Cubs' visit to honor their World Series win. Trump referred to Gilbert as a "great friend" and "huge supporter" of his.

"If anyone stands next to that guy, he will call you close friends," James said. "He doesn't even know you. That's just how irrational his mind is. I can't speak for Dan, he's his own man. I can't speak for the situation that happened; he can tell you about that."

Gilbert seemed thrown off by the encounter. His company, Quicken Loans, donated $750,000 toward Trump's inauguration party, and he remains in contact with Trump about urban development projects in Cleveland and his home city of Detroit. Gilbert is scheduled to meet with Ivanka Trump there this week as part of a job growth initiative backed by her father. But both Gilbert and his wife made $75,000 personal donations to Clinton's campaign, as well as a significant financial contribution to one of Trump's opponents on the Republican ticket, Chris Christie.

Gilbert issued a statement Monday that noted he was named to the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force by then-President Barack Obama in 2014 -- underscoring Gilbert's party flexibility -- and added that his association with Trump is centered on receiving federal government assistance to fortify Cleveland and Detroit.

"Our interests are in the policies at the federal level, and not the politics surrounding the elections," the statement read in part. "We have often supported both political parties in the same election so that we have the ability to impact positive change, regardless of who occupies the offices.

"Our focus with any office holder or politician is about the communication of the still substantial needs of our former rust-belt cities that are now finally beginning the road to recovery and growth that other parts of America have been experiencing for a long period of time."

Gilbert also voiced support for James' and other athletes' political outspokenness.

"Professional athletes, owners and the leagues themselves, as well as the country, would greatly benefit from an open, inclusive dialogue that would allow the expression of all views and concerns that have recently become hot topics in professional sports," the statement said.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said his team plans to meet so players can discuss whether they will participate in a group protest this season. James did not rule out his involvement, but prefers speaking about the issues facing the country

"For me personally, my voice is more important than my knee," James said. "I talk [to media] every single day; what I say, I think it should hit home for a lot of people. I don't believe I have to get on my knee to even further what I'm talking about."

"I support [Colin] Kaepernick for being as powerful as he was. Being the one, he had to fall on the sword, unfortunately. I wish I owned an NFL team. I'd sign him today."

James said one good thing that came out of the weekend was the conversation.

"We know this is the greatest country in the world," James said. "It's the land of the free. But we still have problems just like everybody else, and when we have those problems, we have to figure out a way how we come together and be as great as we can be as a people. Because the people run this country. Not one individual. And damn sure not him."

Other coaches and players were asked about the protests on Monday.

"I think ultimately, we as the Celtics organization support our guys and their right to take a stand and protest peacefully and promote positive change," Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "We talk about trying to use, again, our platform to have positive discussion to talk about things like uniting. To talk all the time about, leaders unite and inspire people and misleaders divide.

"So ultimately, if we can be a team that uses that in a positive way, if we can be individuals that use that in a positive way, we can create a good message that unifies -- you're doing your small part with the platform you're given."

New Celtics guard Kyrie Irving was asked if his thought the situation was getting worse.

"The hope is progression. The hope is progression," Irving said. "I think the beautiful thing is that people are starting to wake up."

"I think athletes have a tremendous opportunity, or I think sports is highly influential," Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said. "I think what's going on in football, with having the freedom to express their First Amendment right, I think that should be something that should be considered and understood.

"I think it's unconstitutional to ... tell them they don't have the right to speak on whatever they feel like their heart needs to be spoken on. That's what my take on it is. I think basketball and athletes have a tremendous opportunity with our platform to do something about it."

Charlotte Hornets All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, when asked about James' support of Curry, said: "It's a brotherhood. The NBA is a brotherhood. We've seen LeBron and Steph go at it in the Finals the last couple years, so it's cool to see [James' support].

"We're a brotherhood, this whole league."

"I think [the protests are] great because we're finally talking about what's important," said New York Knicks center Joakim Noah. "Obviously, I have my beliefs. I put in a lot of work in the neighborhoods trying to help at-risk youth. I have my opinions, but I respect this country a lot. But we have to look at everything that's going on as a positive because we're finally talking about issues that are usually swept under the rug. Because somebody takes a knee, we're finally talking about what's important."

"I think the president brought a lot of this stuff on himself," said Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan, an American who plays in Canada. "He brought it on himself. He brought it on us as a country. ... I feel no player is trying to disrespect anybody, no flag or anything like that, but we seem to be the ones who get all the disrespect from our so-called leader."

Knicks center Enes Kanter said that seeing the U.S. go through this tough time is "really breaking my heart.

"I just feel bad because when I look at America, when I was at a young age, it's about freedom of religion, freedom of speech; now all of these amazing people are going through this tough time and it's breaking my heart.

"I'm not from here, I'm from Turkey. But still going through this with these guys, I feel them because I'm going through the same things with my country, too. It's tough, but I'm praying for you guys."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.