WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday urged the Washington Capitals to come to the White House to celebrate their Stanley Cup championship, but said the winner of the National Basketball Association title would not be invited.
Trump issued his invitation to the National Hockey League champions and NBA snub following a divisive controversy that resulted on Tuesday in the National Football League’s Super Bowl-winning Philadelphia Eagles not making the trip to see the president, a long-standing tradition of U.S. collegiate and professional championship teams.
Only a few members of the Eagles had planned to attend the event, so Trump disinvited them.
Trump has lashed out at NFL players who kneel in protest during the national anthem before games. No Eagles took part in last season’s kneeling demonstrations, which began as a way for black players to protest police treatment of minorities.
Trump’s attacks on kneeling football players draws cheers from conservatives. A new NFL policy was announced last month that would fine teams if players kneel during the anthem but allow them to stay in the locker room in protest, prompted Trump to say, “maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.”
After Washington’s hockey team won the NHL championship on Thursday night with a 4-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights, Trump said he would like to have the Capitals come to the White House.
“If they want to be here, it’s the greatest place on Earth. I’m here,” he told reporters at the White House. “If they don’t want to be here, I don’t want them.”
Before Washington won the championship Devante Smith-Pelly, a black Canadian on the Capitals who scored a goal in the Stanley Cup-clinching game, was quoted by Canada’s National Post as saying he would not accept a Trump invitation because “the things that he spews are straight-up racist and sexist.”
Trump said he would ask athletes to give him names of people who they feel have been treated unfairly by the criminal justice system and he would consider pardoning them or commuting their sentences. Trump has used his presidential power seven times in less than 18 months to pardon or commute sentences for federal crimes.
The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are playing for the NBA’s championship, but Trump said on Friday the winner would not be coming to the White House. After the Warriors won last year’s title, Trump withdrew their White House invitation after one of their star players, Stephen Curry, said he would vote against visiting Trump.
Curry and the Cavaliers’ top player, LeBron James, already have said they would not want to make the White House trip this year.
“We’re not going to invite either team,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, an outspoken Trump critic, said Trump had “made it pretty clear he’s going to try to divide us ... for political gain.”
Trump earlier praised the Capitals in a post on Twitter, citing Alex Ovechkin, the team’s Russian-born star, who last year started what he called a “social movement” named PutinTeam to support Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Congratulations to the Washington Capitals on their GREAT play and winning the Stanley Cup Championship. Alex Ovechkin, the team captain, was spectacular - a true Superstar! D.C. is popping, in many ways. What a time!”
Reporting by Susan Heavey and James Oliphant; Editing by Bill Trott and Bill Berkrot