Kemba Walker does not think athletes need to stick to sports.
Speaking to the media in Los Angeles on the eve of the 2018 All-Star Game, the Charlotte Hornets point guard said comments from conservative personality Laura Ingraham to LeBron James this week were “disrespectful.”
In a video interview with ESPN this week, NBA stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant criticized President Donald Trump, with James slamming the president as not giving “a f--- about the people.” Ingraham, a Fox News host and ardent Trump supporter, responded by calling the players’ comments “ignorant,” and that they ought to “keep the political commentary to yourself or, as someone once said, ‘shut up and dribble.’ ”
Asked what he’d do if someone told him to “shut up and dribble,” Walker paused, then said he honestly wasn’t sure what he’d say. But he said he admired the response from James, his All-Star team captain.
“It was pretty disrespectful. But LeBron is a pro, and he’s going to handle everything well,” Walker said.
He continued: “People should have the chance to say whatever they want, especially a guy like LeBron. He’s huge, an icon. He should have an opinion if he wants to.”
Ingraham issued a statement Friday denying any “racial intent.” But her comments drew sharp criticism, including from professional athletes like James and Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long, who took to Twitter to denounce the idea that athletes cannot comment on social issues.
In a press conference Saturday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that he’s “incredibly proud” of players who use their platform to speak out on issues that are important to them.
“These players are not just basketball players. They’re multidimensional, they care about their communities and they care about their country. They then care enough to speak out, and sometimes at great risk to themselves,” Silver said.
Although Walker is a bit more reserved than some of his peers in the NBA, the 27-year-old has been vocal about social issues in the past.
In response to the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott by Charlotte police and the protests that followed in September 2016, for instance, Walker, forward Marvin Williams and coach Steve Clifford led an effort to fund two $60,000 college scholarships for Charlotte-Mecklenburg high school seniors.
Walker was a last-minute addition to the All-Star roster as a reserve: The NBA announced last week that Walker would replace New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis, who tore his ACL this month.
Walker was also an All-Star last season, selected by Eastern Conference coaches as a reserve. Walker became Charlotte’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals on Feb. 4, surpassing the previous high of 929 by Dell Curry.