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Minnesota Mr. Basketball chairman steps down over anti-Muslim tweets

ST. PAUL—The chairman and owner of the Minnesota Mr. Basketball Award, which has traditionally been awarded to the state's top high school senior, has resigned in the wake of anti-Muslim tweets that set off a firestorm of criticism over the weekend.

Ken Lien made the announcement in an open letter he sent to the Pioneer Press on Wednesday afternoon.

"I humbly and sincerely apologize for my insensitivity and to those I have offended," Lien said in his letter.

In a tweet sent by the Mr. Basketball account, @MrBasketballMN, Lien quoted a tweet regarding Muslim high school students in New Jersey with the comment "Run their asses outta there!"

From the same account, he tweeted "Absolutely we should!" in response to a tweet asking whether Americans should be afraid of Muslim women and children refugees.

In his letter, Lien wrote, "As a figure who has tried always to shed a positive light on high school basketball in our state, and as a citizen of this great country, my actions were inexcusable. I humbly and sincerely apologize for my insensitivity and to those I have offended."

The Minnesota Mr. Basketball Award was established in 1975.

In a rapid response to Lien's comments, the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association created a new award for the state's top senior and named it the McDonald Award for legendary Chisholm basketball coach Bob McDonald, who coached for 59 years and amassed a state-record 1,012 victories.

It's unclear whether Lien's resignation will save the Minnesota Mr. Basketball Award from being abandoned. Asked if it changes anything for him, Minneapolis North coach Larry McKenzie said, "Not at all."

Lien, McKenzie noted, still owns the award.

"So, what does that mean? I would want to know, I don't even know who's on the committee," he said. "I would like to know the position of those people that are the committee and what's their feelings about what has already taken place?"

Lien mostly used the Mr. Basketball Twitter account to tweet about high school basketball but also has used it for personal tweets about other topics, including politics. The account has been taken down, but some Twitter users made screen grabs of previous tweets. One ridiculed Mother's Day cards made for families with absent fathers.

"Too funny.......But true!" Lien tweeted.

On Friday, Henry Sibley coach John Carrier called Lien out on Twitter, posting a long, personal message that seemed to kick-start the creation of the McDonald Award. "Going forward," he wrote "Henry Sibley Boys Basketball will be no longer acknowledging your Mr. Basketball Program as an award speaking for Minnesota."

Khalid El-Amin, a Minneapolis North graduate who won the award in 1997 before winning an NCAA championship at Connecticut, called for Lien to step down and supported the creation of a new award in a Facebook post.

"As an African American and a Muslim I am highly offended with these racist comments, and the fact that this isn't the first time," El-Amin wrote.

The Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association said in a statement that it thanked Lien for his "leadership and commitment to Mr. Basketball" and explained the McDonald Award as one that "will be widely recognized as the top award that a senior high school basketball player in Minnesota can receive."

That works for McKenzie, who wants the MBCA to disassociate itself from the Mr. Basketball Award.

"That'll be something that I will definitely be pushing the coaches association to do," he said. "(His resignation) doesn't change anything for me."

Here is the full text of Lien's resignation letter:

"IN THE LAST SEVERAL DAYS, there have been a number of reports about my ill-advised posts on social media. As a figure who has tried always to shed a positive light on high school basketball in our state, and as a citizen of this great country, my actions were inexcusable.

"I humbly and sincerely apologize for my insensitivity and to those I have offended.

"Having owned the rights to the non-profit, all-volunteer Mr. Basketball of Minnesota program for 40 years, it truly has been a labor of love and pride for the committee and myself.

"We do not just look at stats in the morning paper or on any number of online outlets. A safe estimate is we attend a minimum of 340 games annually.

"We do that in fairness to the players. There are nights where a player has a hard time making a bucket, encounters foul problems or is playing through an injury. That's the very reason the committee and I made every effort to see the candidates several times during a season.

"I mention this because it's important for you to know the diligence and effort the committee puts forth. We put in this effort because being named 'Mr. Basketball' is the most prestigious high school boys basketball award in the state.

"My poor decision-making has caused hurt feelings and a great deal of anger. I recognize this and I am truly apologetic. It was, and never has been, my intent to hurt anybody's feelings.

"In the best interest of the award, past and future recipients and all those who represent high school basketball, I have removed myself from the Mr. Basketball committee effective immediately, and have not and will not be involved in this season's voting.

"I made this action known to my committee members on Monday. There will be a new head and spokesperson of the committee, including for this season's 43rd annual award.

"I encourage all devoted basketball fans to place your trust in the Mr. Basketball committee. These gentlemen are a committed group and will continue to work diligently to crown Minnesota's best high school senior.

"Thank you for your understanding and I ask for your forgiveness."

~ KEN LIEN

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