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Basketball takes backseat to Trump on Day 1 of Raptors training camp

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri attends a premiere for "The Carter Effect" on day 3 of the Toronto International Film Festival at the Princess of Wales Theatre on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Toronto. Raptors president Ujiri says he is fine with his players speaking their mind, adding nobody is going to get fired here. His comment was a reference to President Donald Trump's speech Friday in Alabama when he said NFL owners should fire players who protest during the national anthem.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP

TORONTO - After speaking out in favour of athletes speaking out, Raptors guard Kyle Lowry paused.

"This is a crazy subject. I can go on and on and on about it," said Lowry, who grew up in north Philadelphia.

So too for fellow Toronto all-star DeMar DeRozan, who hails from hardscrabble Compton, Calif. Like Lowry, DeRozan is now a millionaire many times over. But the money doesn't erase raw memories.

"I've had friends killed by police officers," said DeRozan. "A couple days after being at my house, when I was young, and even recently. And it sucks.

"Even myself, you could drive a nice car and I'm still being questioned 'How'd get this car? Do you do this, do you do that?'"

Basketball took a backseat to politics on Day 1 of Raptors training camp as management and players spent more time talking about President Donald Trump's searing criticism of NFL player protests than they did the coming NBA season.

In a speech Friday at an Alabama rally, Trump said NFL owners should fire players who protest during the national anthem.

Trump's comments and subsequent tweets prompted swift reaction. As did his decision to retract an invitation to the White House to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.

More NFL players knelt. Other stood and locked arms, with team owners in some instances.

The president doubled down Monday with several more tweets.

Raptors management wasted little time demonstrating they had their players' backs.

President Masai Ujiri said he's "110 per cent" behind his players. "There's nobody getting fired here, you can quote me."

Coach Dwane Casey, who met with his players Sunday night to discuss the issue, also said he encouraged the Raptors to use their First Amendment rights.

He called it unfortunate that people "can even question" whether athletes' have the right to speak out.

"And coming from our president, it's hurtful," he said.

Casey said he did not see the anthem protests as disrespectful.

"I applaud the NFL players, the owners that were out there standing together in unity. And again it's not disrespecting our flag whatsoever."

Casey said he tells his kids and his players that you don't disrespect your flag or your country — or the office of the presidency.

"It stands for something," he said.

"But if you feel strongly about something, you have the right to speak up about it," Casey added.

Ujiri said while there's plenty of things about the U.S. that are special, "Canada is a blessing."

"I think we'd get to go to two White Houses, right? If we win a championship, hopefully, one day. I think we'll be fine with (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau," he said, drawing laughs.

Forward Norm Powell expressed frustration that all the focus on the protests meant the spotlight is not on "the reason why they're doing what they're doing."

"As the president of the United States, you need to have the actual genuine concern (about) the people — not just your own feelings and trying to be the biggest person in the room because you're in a position of power. But to actually see and listen to why these people are doing what they're doing and why they have the views that they have. And trying to sit down and talk to them and change it."

DeRozan said Trump had brought a lot of the firestorm on himself and the U.S.

"You've got your president on Twitter more than a 12-year-old, saying the most outrageous things for people who are just trying to do something right," he said. "It's crazy."

Lowry said it was "unfortunate" that the leader of the free world is calling men SOBs.

"That's just sad, to go on a Twitter rant and to be focusing on smaller things, the smallest topics — a kneeling player ... and not focus on the social injustices that are going on. It's bad, it's really bad.

"You wake up every day and you're just like 'What's next?' That's not the way you want to wake up. You want to wake up and say 'All right, let's have a great day.'

"Even this morning, you're like, 'Come on, man.' It's like my six-year-old. Just going back and forth. Why? Just be the leader of the free world. You were voted to be the leader of the free world, to make the world better, the United States of America better. Why not do that?"


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

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