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CLEVELAND — Donald Trump did it again. He’s the rat you can’t get out of the pantry. Here we are at the NBA Finals, trying our best to shut up and dribble (or to write about dribbling), and once again Trump has jammed politics into the games.

A lot of fans urge athletes, coaches and writers to “stick to sports.” But how can we when the president of the United States refuses to stick to politics?

On Tuesday, as Americans were going to the polls in an important primary election, Trump disinvited the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles from the White House. It resonated here in Cleveland, because the president had sent out a similar disinvitation (I wonder if he mails cards or sends e-disinvites) to the Warriors after they won the NBA title a year ago.

The circumstances were similar. Woke sports team wins championship. Word circulates that some of the players will not attend the traditional White House visit because of their disdain for the president’s stance on major issues of race and social justice. President pre-empts his embarrassment and tells the team it can’t come. Nyah-nyah-nyah. More ice cream for Donnie!

The athletes who are openly anti-Trump seem to have acquired a certain fatigue on the subject. They don’t want to shy away from an opportunity to focus the conversation on those underlying social issues. But man, they’re sick of talking about this guy.

“What else do you expect Trump to do?” Warriors forward Kevin Durant asked before practice at Quicken Loans Arena on Tuesday. “When somebody says they don’t want to come to the White House, he disinvites them so the photo op don’t look bad. We get it at this point.”

“I’m not surprised. It’s typical of him,” Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James said of Trump. “I don’t know. I mean, I know no matter who wins this series, no one wants the invite anyway. So it won’t be Golden State or Cleveland going.”

History will remember Donald Trump as the great divider. America was fracturing long before he rose to political power, but he profited from the rift like no one before him and, sensing an opportunity, has done everything he can to make the chasm wider. Trump doesn’t care if 70 percent of the country despises him, as long as the other 30 percent buys his hats and cheers for him at rallies.

Strangely, a lot of this division has centered on sports. The football stadium and the basketball arena used to be among the few places where we could forget, or at least ignore, our politics, our religion, our social status for a couple hours. Now the games have become litmus tests. Who is standing? Who is kneeling? Who will be invited to the White House? Who won’t?

But Trump isn’t just a divider. His other major contribution to American history is as the great enemy of normative behavior.

This, by itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Slavery was once a societal norm. So was spousal abuse and homophobia. Sometimes norms should be undermined. But Trump is doing it at lightning speed, and with no underlying purpose other than to enrich and flatter himself.

Previous presidents might have found it unacceptable to openly enlist Russian hackers to dig up dirt on their campaign opponents, as Trump is suspected of doing with Hillary Clinton. None of our modern national leaders has courted open racists, and none since Nixon has suggested that the president is above the law. Until Trump. He tries to sell merchandise through the White House website. He breaks deals with longtime allies and cozies up to dictators. He uses somber occasions like Memorial Day to promote his accomplishments in office.

Little by little, Trump is breaking down the definition of what it means to be an American leader — and, in effect, what it means to be an American. And this campaign extends to sports.

It started with the national anthem. Colin Kaepernick began the silent pregame protest in 2016, but it was Trump who re-ignited and fanned the issue when he attacked players personally and, later, successfully bullied NFL owners into supporting the idea of keeping players in the locker room during the anthem.

It’s possible we’ve seen the end of NFL players lined up along the sidelines for the national anthem. And hey, maybe it was a stupid idea in the first place. Maybe we shouldn’t even be playing the Star Spangled Banner at sporting events. I’m all for having that conversation. I’m not for simply doing away with it to avoid a fight with Donald Trump, a man who doesn’t know the words to the song.

And the next casualty might be the traditional champions’ visit to the White House. It caused an uproar when Trump spurned the Warriors, and another when he spurned the Eagles. Why will the next title be any different?

As Draymond Green said Tuesday, “I guess everybody get disinvited. Maybe it’s just a tradition that needs to stop, if everybody’s gonna be disinvited.”

Again, let’s kill these traditions if we decide collectively they don’t make sense. Not because an adult toddler is afraid the guest list won’t be big enough.

“No matter who’s been in office, we’ve always had some athletes on the team not go,” NBA analyst Greg Anthony told me. “And you know what? That’s their right. That’s the beauty of America, it’s freedom of speech. And so we shouldn’t allow this to become personal. So that’s something I’m not a fan of.”

And I’ll just say it: I kind of like the White House visit. I like seeing this diverse set of athletes — 20-year-old college quarterbacks from rural Georgia and rugged NBA centers from the Republic of Georgia — standing in the Rose Garden in dapper suits. It may be nothing more than a publicity stunt for the president, but for the invitees it can be a big deal.

That’s what Anthony told me. He does work for TNT and Bleacher Report and Sirius XM Radio, and he was at Quicken Loans Arena on Tuesday. He visited the George H.W. Bush White House after UNLV won the NCAA men’s basketball championship in 1990. It was a proud moment for Anthony, whom Bush the elder had appointed as a special assistant to the Ambassador of the Economic World Summit — the G7 conference — that year.

I asked Anthony if we’d lose anything as a culture if we did away with the White House visit. He thinks we would.

“Because the vast majority of athletes who win these championships have never been in the White House,” Anthony said. “And the vast majority aren’t political. But the one thing that’s great about America is we’re a nation of laws. And we respect those laws, and we respect those traditions that are in the norms in our present-day society. And it would be nice to continue with those sort of experiences and traditions. both sides, no matter what side of the aisle politically you’re on, there’s generally certain areas where we find common ground. And I always felt that honoring our respective sports teams for tremendous achievements was one of them.”

Maybe the White House visit will somehow be salvaged. Or better yet, maybe it will reappear in 2021.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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