Political opponents, celebrities and even Melania Trump have joined a chorus of condemnation after Donald Trump described the basketball superstar and philanthropist as dumb on Twitter.

On late Friday night (3 August) Trump mocked LeBron James’ intelligence after an interview James did with Don Lemon on CNN.

“Lebron James (sic) was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon” Trump wrote. “He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!”

LeBron James’ school for underprivileged youth

James was being interviewed after opening his ‘I Promise’ school in his home city of Akron, Ohio. The school provides education, food and bikes for underprivileged children. James said the school was designed as a holistic educational facility and would play a role in sheltering children from drugs and violence in the impoverished city. He has invested US$8 million into the school so far.

“I think athletics are important but also their minds,” James said when asked if the school would promote sport as well as academic opportunities.

James went on to say that sport was a uniting force in the US. “It (sports) brings so much camaraderie, so much fun.”

“We are in a position right now in America…where this race thing has taken over. I believe our President is kind of trying to divide us. He’s dividing us and what I’ve noticed over the last few months is that he’s kind of used sport to divide us and that’s something I can’t relate to.

“Sport was the first time I ever was around someone white and I got an opportunity to learn about them and they got an opportunity to learn about me and we got the opportunity to become very good friends.”

Reaction to Trump insulting LeBron James

Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said it would be hard to argue the President’s attack on James’ intelligence wasn’t racist. Veteran journalist Dan Rather echoed these thoughts, writing “It’s a disgrace. It’s racist” on Twitter.

“I’d much rather live in a world reflecting the values, philanthropy, and yes intelligence of LeBron James and Don Lemon’s intelligent commitment to truth and journalism than the divisive peevishness, lies, and narrow self-interest displayed by the President of the United States,” Rather continued.

Former attorney Dean Obeidallah said the attack was not out of character for Trump. “There’s no disputing that Donald Trump’s pattern of attacking well-known African-Americans as having “low IQs” or being of low intelligence is parroting the white nationalist view that blacks are inherently less intelligent than whites,” he wrote on CNN.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also entered the debate to support James. “We need more like him in this world,” she wrote on Twitter.

In his tweet, Trump had written “I like Mike”, referring to Michael Jordan, perhaps the only basketballer who is seen as having achieved more in the game than LeBron James. Jordan slapped down his advances, however, and released a statement supporting James.

“I support LeBron James. He’s doing an amazing job for his community,” Jordan wrote.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also backed up James.

“I greatly admire his intelligence and business acumen and have enormous respect and appreciation for what he does in his community,” he told USA Today.

Other basketball stars including Stephen Curry, Karl-Anthony Towns and Donovan Mitchell, offered their support for their fellow player after Trump’s tweet.

Melania Trump enters the fray, says James is “working to do good things”

Even Melania Trump got involved, issuing a statement through her spokeswoman that said: “It looks like LeBron James is working to do good things on behalf of our next generation and just as she always has, the First Lady encourages everyone to have an open dialogue about issues facing children today.

“As you know, Mrs. Trump has travelled the country and world talking to children about their well-being, healthy living, and the importance of responsible online behaviour with her Be Best initiative.”

Melania also said she would also be interested in visiting the new school James had opened.

The First Lady later clarified her stance. A White House official told ABC News that Melania Trump wasn’t supporting James per se, but was siding with children.

“That wasn’t her taking sides – that was her office stick to what she is focused on, which is using Be Best for what it intended – to help children,” the official said.

Athletes not welcome at Trump’s White House

The latest feud continues Trump’s generally poor relations with professional athletes. He had previously uninvited the Golden State Warriors from the traditional post-championship White House visit after coach Steve Kerr and star Stephen Curry had said they would not be making the visit. Kerr has been a vocal critic of the Trump administration.

Trump has also been at odds with NFL players who have protested by kneeling during the national anthem. He previously withdrew an invitation for the Philadelphia Eagles to visit the White House after some Eagles players took part in protests.

James is a particular hero in Ohio, after he returned to his home state and delivered the Cleveland Cavaliers the 2016 NBA Championship, ending one of professional sport’s longest droughts. Earlier this year, he moved to the Los Angeles Lakers during free agency.