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NBA AM: A History of White House Visits

So much was made of the White House this past weekend, but how important is that visit, really, in a historical sense?

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This may come as a shock to some, but the Golden State Warriors will not be visiting the White House this winter to celebrate their 2017 NBA Championship, something that has drawn its fair share of analysis over the course of the last 48 hours.

Regardless of how anyone feels about it, the rescinding of a White House invitation (or lack of a White House visit, if we’re getting technical) is nothing close to usual.

It’s not that professional athletes haven’t skipped the trip before. Martellus Bennett, Chris Long and the contingent of New England Patriots that passed on a Trump meeting earlier this year was perhaps the largest and most notable block of professional athletes to decline the invitation on political grounds, but there have been protests under previous administrations, as well. Mark Birk skipped an invitation from President Obama following the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII Championship in opposition to Obama’s stance on Planned Parenthood. Manny Ramirez passing on invites from the second President Bush in both 2004 and 2007.

As far as basketball is concerned, though, skipping for political reasons is rarer. NBA teams have been getting invited to the White House since 1963, when the Boston Celtics were awarded the opportunity to meet with John F. Kennedy. This did not necessarily happen every year at that point, but even in the modern era there have been huge NBA stars fail to make their way to the White House.

Larry Bird and several of his teammates decided not to visit with President Regan in 1984 following a Celtics championship, but for unspecified reasons. Years later, while most of the 1991 Chicago Bulls met with the first President Bush following their first championship, Michael Jordan didn’t go, choosing instead to indulge in a round of golf and spend some time with his family in North Carolina.

That was a big deal 26 years ago, with headlines lambasting Jordan for upstaging the honoring of his teammates, but what Stephen Curry and the Warriors are doing now is something else entirely. Historically, there never has been anything quite like it.

It is the first time that a president has failed to issue an invitation to a major modern championship team out of principle. While Trump’s tweet suggested an invite had been extended and then pulled pack, he never had officially gotten around to welcoming the Warriors to Washington, D.C., but those are semantics. Either way, something like this never has happened before.

This tradition is incredibly old, starting months after the Civil War ended and Abraham Lincoln was shot in 1865. That August, President Andrew Johnson invited a couple of amateur teams to the nation’s capital. President Ulysses S. Grant invited the first professional sports team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, in 1869, and Calvin Coolidge invited the first World Series champions in 1924.

There have been rumblings that the 2017 NBA Champions would not attend the White House since Trump’s election in late 2016, long before we even knew who the 2017 NBA Champions would be. At the time, league commissioner Adam Silver hoped that athletes would use the opportunity to speak with the president to his face, expressing their concerns with the single most influential human being in the country.

This was before Trump proved more divisive than anyone could have imagined, however. Silver, in his response to Trump’s tweets over the weekend lambasting Curry by name, still seemed disappointed that the meeting wasn’t going to happen.

Silver probably is going to have to get used to it, though. Unless something dramatic happens with this administration, players are not going to suddenly grow more interested in visiting Trump’s White House, nor does it seem likely that Trump will grow any more receptive to instituting change based on the opinions of athletes.

Golden State’s decision not to attend sets the trend. The next three NBA champions seem incredibly likely to make the same decision.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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