Basketball Is Sworn In as Presidential Sport

On January 21, 2009, in Articles, by Baller-in-Chief

(From the Wall Street Journal Online) When Barack Obama was sworn in as president on Tuesday, basketball took office as the new presidential sport. He’s the first White House chief denizen to make hoops his chief sport. “Obama campaigned on a platform of ‘Change,’ and indeed having a basketball-obsessed president is uncharted water,” Mark Zeigler [...]

(From the Wall Street Journal Online)

When Barack Obama was sworn in as president on Tuesday, basketball took office as the new presidential sport. He’s the first White House chief denizen to make hoops his chief sport.

“Obama campaigned on a platform of ‘Change,’ and indeed having a basketball-obsessed president is uncharted water,” Mark Zeigler writes in the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Only six of the previous 43 presidents were over 6 feet (Obama is 6-1½), none taller than 6-4. Jimmy Carter played basketball briefly in high school, and Bill Clinton made Oxford’s JVs when he studied in England, which, he later said, ’shows you how weak basketball was at Oxford.’ And that’s pretty much it for basketball and the Oval Office. The first U.S. presidents were fond of horseback riding, fishing and hunting. More than a dozen have played golf. Wilson, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and Ford played or coached football. Both Bushes were big baseball guys. Obama? On YouTube you can find the ‘Barack O’Balla Mix Tape,’ a compilation of basketball clips to a rap soundtrack that, these days at least, is the ultimate symbol of roundball respect. He has practiced with the North Carolina men’s team. He’s played pickup with troops in Djibouti. He’s walked into a gym in Kuwait and, without warming up or loosening his tie, drained a three-pointer on his first attempt.” He’s also assembled a cabinet with impressive basketball skills, as the Wall Street Journal’s Amy Chozick noted last month.

Obama’s game is a little bit of Tony Parker, some Dick Barnett, and some Lenny Wilkens, among other ingredients. “In the same way that his candidacy confounded much of the political wisdom about race, Obama’s game at age 47 makes a muddle of categories. ‘Here you have a laced-up professional off the court — a “white” persona — who throws behind-the-back passes and busts crossovers,’ ” Claude Johnson, founder of the website Baller-in-Chief.com, tells Sports Illustrated’s Alexander Wolff. ” ‘You’d think he’d have a basically stiff game, like Tim Duncan’s, but no, he’s showing up at a North Carolina practice or playing ball with [NBA guard Chris] Duhon. So the guy on the street says, “Whoa, he’s got a little game!” It’s part of his appeal.’ ”

Here’s Duhon’s scouting report, in the New York Post: “During our pickup games, Obama was very vocal on both ends of the court, constantly talking, directing guys, telling them where to go. He understands how to play the game. He can only go left, though. He knows how to pass and is a decent shooter.” He also beat SI’s Scott Price, in 2007, in what Price called “the ugliest, slowest game in history.”

Just as Obama’s candidacy confounded conventional wisdom on race, so has basketball, which remains popular among African-Americans but is also increasingly international and multiracial. That fulfills the vision of Martin Luther King, Jr., who thought globally, Kurt Streeter writes in the Los Angeles Times.

The biggest star in Obama’s favorite game never embraced politics. But Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander says it’s not too late for Michael Jordan to embrace Obama’s call for responsible behavior. “Barack Obama is a fresh role model of epic proportions,” Telander writes. “It’s not too late for an outdated hero such as Jordan, and all the other high-profile black athletes in this country — white ones, too — to join him. Imagine how high they can fly.”

While Jordan was nowhere to be found during the inaugural events, the athlete who inherited his mantle as global icon, Tiger Woods, said a few words Sunday, after staying out of the presidential race. CBS Sports’ Mike Freeman wasn’t impressed. “His words of support for the military were fine — I’m ex-Army and appreciate that — but he still said little of substance,” Freeman writes. “I’d have more respect for Woods if he stuck to his noncommittal persona and turned down the offer. It’s true. I would. Woods’ meek appearance had the smell of bandwagon jumping. Too late, Tiger. Some of us know what you’re doing, which is being overtly opportunistic.”

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