Ken Lien, the owner and chairman of the Minnesota Mr. Basketball Award, was contrite and apologetic Saturday after a series of inflammatory tweets about Muslims from Lien’s twitter account prompted one local basketball coach to dissociate his program from the award.
On Friday, Lien retweeted a post about Muslim high school students in New Jersey allegedly taunting school officials and added the comment, “Run their asses otta there!”
In response to the since-deleted post, Henry Sibley coach John Carrier issued a Twitter statement Friday saying, in part, “I’m sorry … I can no longer stand by silently and support these types of tweets from someone representing our state.” Carrier added: “Going forward, Henry Sibley basketball will be no longer acknowledging your Mr. Basketball Program as an award speaking for Minnesota. … I hope other programs and our Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association follow suit.”
Lien deleted his @mrbasketballmn Twitter account over the weekend.
“I feel bad about what I did, and I would like to apologize,” Lien said Saturday morning in a phone interview. “What it is, I see all this stuff bashing our country and I get upset about it. It isn’t that I’m filled with hate for Muslims. I feel bad about what I did.”
A search of Lien’s Twitter feed revealed multiple posts going back to spring of 2016 denouncing Muslims and immigrants, including one that read: “Minnesota first state to fall to Somali Muslims — Good? Hell no. Unbelievably BAD. My opinion & sticking to it. ” Lien denied any prejudice against Muslims, however, saying most of his offending tweets are either retweets or responses to other posts.
“I’ve never created anything negative that went out that I recall,” he said. “Maybe some retweets and I’ve maybe said some things on previous tweets. But it’s not as if I’ve hated anyone. I shouldn’t have come right out and responded the way I did.”
Many in the local basketball community have issued statements of support for Carrier’s stance.
“This is very disturbing to me,” Minneapolis North boys’ basketball coach Larry McKenzie said. “I’ve got a player that is Muslim on my team. When he reads that, what’s he supposed to think? I am in full support of John, 100 percent.”
The Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association, which is not affiliated with the Mr. Basketball Award, backed Carrier, tweeting “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Kudos to Coach Carrier for his courageous response.” The tweet went on to say the coaches association supports Carrier and will “continue to strive to cherish and preserve ethnic and cultural diversity.”
The brother of former Minneapolis North star guard Khalid El-Amin, Makram El-Amin, tweeted, “As a Muslim and brother of Mr. [Basketball] 1997, I’m offended.”
Carrier declined Saturday to expand on his decision to withdraw his program from the Mr. Basketball Award, saying only that his position hasn’t changed.
“I don’t want to comment any further except to say I appreciate the support,” he said. “I said what I needed to say and now I want to step back and let the story tell itself.”
There are some in the coaching community who say Lien’s tweets indicate a need for change.
“The term ‘Mr. Basketball’ carries significance. Nationally, it means something,” Brooklyn Center coach Matthew McCollister said. “An apology doesn’t matter. It’s who Ken is. We’d like the system to be overhauled, with new leadership. Any time something is run by one person for 40 years, it gets stale. He’s shown that he doesn’t have any right to judge or award something to an ethnicity other than his own.”
The Minnesota Mr. Basketball Award has been awarded since 1975 and is not affiliated with the Minnesota State High School League.
Lien, who has run the Mr. Basketball Award program since 1977, said that he plans to restrict his tweeting in the future to “just scores and other basketball stuff” and hopes that his body of work as a longtime basketball supporter will be enough to help him overcome his social media faux pas.
“I expect there’ll be some people upset and want the chance to rip me a new one. I’m a big boy. I can handle it,” he said.
“I think my reputation and integrity has been good. I don’t take my position as Chairman and Owner of Mr. Basketball lightly.”