Before questioning LeBron James' intellect, Trump called him a 'great guy'

  • Before President Donald Trump publicly questioned the intelligence of LeBron James on Twitter, he was apparently one of the NBA great's biggest cheerleaders.
  • "LeBron is a great player and a great guy!" the president exclaimed in 2013.
President Donald Trump.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images
President Donald Trump.

Before President Donald Trump publicly questioned the intelligence of NBA star LeBron James on Twitter, he was apparently one of "King James"' biggest cheerleaders.

Late Friday, the leader of the free world reignited a bitter feud between the two that began last fall, when Trump rescinded a White House invitation to the NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors. James was interviewed by CNN earlier this week, during which time the player hit out at Trump for "using sports to kinda divide people."

Even some of his critics give credit to James — a three-time NBA champion who married his high school sweetheart and just this week opened a school for disadvantaged children – for being an admirable role model. In a statement given to NBC News via a spokesperson on Saturday, basketball great Michael Jordan — who Trump referenced as the better basketball player — said that he supported James.

"He's doing an amazing job for his community," the statement read.

Yet, it was only a few years ago that the president showered compliments on the newly-minted Los Angeles Laker, calling James a "great person and a great guy," and a "tough competitor who delivers under pressure."

In a series of Twitter posts between 2012 and 2015, Trump declared himself a fan of a player widely considered professional basketball's most dominant figure.

Back when he was a real estate mogul and reality television star, Trump openly cheered for James before he won his first championship ring with the Miami Heat, and a year later congratulated him for winning the Athlete of the Year accolade.

Those tweets, of course, predated Trump declaring his candidacy and winning the White House in the bitter 2016 election. Since ascending to the Oval Office, the president has courted numerous cultural controversies involving professional athletes — most notably, inserting himself in the NFL's long-running standoff with players who refused to stand for the national anthem.

Last September, Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry publicly rebuked Trump and said he wouldn't attend a White House ceremony honoring the team, which prompted the president to rescind the invitation.

The resulting feud prompted scores of athletes to defend Curry — including James, whose Cleveland Cavaliers had just been defeated by the Warriors. The star called Trump a "bum" on Twitter, and later accused the president of trying to divide the nation.

On Saturday, Curry returned the favor by supporting James in his feud with the president.

--CNBC's John Schoen contributed to this report.