(From Dan Shaughnessy at the Boston Globe Online) He’ll be the Basketball President – the first resident of the White House who thinks “Hail to the Chief” is an ode to Robert Parish. Today is the day roundball comes to the Oval Office. The man with the talking points is a point guard. The man [...]
He’ll be the Basketball President – the first resident of the White House who thinks “Hail to the Chief” is an ode to Robert Parish.
Today is the day roundball comes to the Oval Office. The man with the talking points is a point guard. The man who will lead the free world secretly wishes to be World B. Free.
The star of the Inaugural Ball is a baller.
Barack Obama loves basketball.
Do I make myself clear?
Most of our presidents have had a sport. Teddy Roosevelt ordered a tennis court installed on the White House lawn. FDR used a swimming pool there for physical therapy. Dwight Eisenhower had a putting green put down in the 1950s and his successor, Jack Kennedy, favored touch football. Richard Nixon built a tenpin lane under the White House driveway and looked disturbingly comfortable in bowling shoes (no surprise given that he wore wingtips to the beach). Gerald Ford, who played football at Michigan, enjoyed hitting tee shots off the heads of gallery gawkers. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were joggers. George H.W. Bush built a horseshoe pit. W is a cyclist and a seven-minute miler.
The President-elect is most comfortable on the hardwood. In fact, before he’s sworn in today, it would be fitting if Obama stood on the steps of the Capitol and said, “I got next!”
Did you catch last week’s Sports Illustrated? The estimable Alexander Wolff explored Obama’s considerable on-court history in an essay entitled, “The Audacity of Hoops.” Last week’s New York Times Sunday Style section offered a cover cartoon of Obama shooting at a basket on the White House lawn under the headline, “Rule No. 1: Do Not Call Him ‘Ball Hog in Chief.’ “
Obama’s hoop highlights are huge on the worldwide web. There’s a much-watched Barack o-Balla YouTube video with snippets of the President-elect’s basketball career. A company called KD Productions is selling a limited-edition souvenir Inaugural Ball mini basketball on its website. There’s a Baller-in-Chief.com site. Nothing but net on the net.
It goes back to his youth. The President-elect’s most vivid memory of his absent father is when his dad gave him a basketball for Christmas when he was 10 years old in 1971. The man who will be the 44th president was nicknamed Barry O’Bomber when he was a benchwarmer for Punahou’s state championship high school team in Hawaii in 1979. Never a starter, always looking for more playing time, Barry scored 2 points off the bench at the end of the state-final blowout.
That was the end of his formal basketball career, but he never stopped playing. It is the way of life for millions of men and women around the world. After high school careers, they play intramural and pickup games as young adults, then graduate to becoming gym rats and weekend warriors at the Boys and Girls Clubs and the YMCA. They keep playing after they no longer can beat their own children in one-on-one driveway best-of-threes. They wind up playing old-man basketball Sunday mornings in the park.
Obama played noontime and after-school pickup games while attending Occidental, Columbia, and Harvard Law School. He took his game to the playgrounds of the Windy City when he served as a community organizer in Chicago. He kept playing when he became Senator. And now he will be the Basketball President.
The President-elect’s brother-in-law is Oregon State basketball coach Craig Robinson. His Secretary of Education is former Harvard cocaptain Arne Duncan. His attorney general, Eric Holder, played on the Columbia freshman team. His national security adviser, retired general James Jones, played at Georgetown. His personal aide, Reggie Love, played with Duke’s national champs in 2001. It goes on and on. Susan Rice, ambassador to the United Nations, played at Oxford when she was a Rhodes Scholar. This is one hardwood cabinet.
The White House’s puny outdoor court (one basket) was installed on the southwest lawn under some Magnolia trees 18 years ago. George H.W. Bush christened the basket with a lefty layup. The court’s green surface measures 26 feet by 26 feet and is reported to be in rough shape. During the campaign Obama said he might convert Nixon’s bowling alley into a basketball court, but that plan was scrapped when the bowlers of America protested and the candidate was informed that the alley’s ceiling is only 12 feet high. Until something new is built, Obama’s team can play at Camp David’s full court and no doubt the Verizon Center will be made available. Team Obama probably also can get a game on the fifth floor of the Supreme Court (the “highest court in the land” according to the New York Times).
We saw a lot of Obama’s game on the campaign trail. He played one-on-one against SI’s S.L. Price in Des Moines. He practiced with the North Carolina Tar Heels and tried unsuccessfully to take the ball to the basket against Tyler Hansbrough. He swished a trey when he visited our troops in Kuwait.
Any surprise he carried North Carolina and Indiana in November? Some Red States love basketball more than Red.
Obama is 47 years old, lefthanded, 6 feet 1 1/2 inch, and bears some resemblance to Tayshaun Prince. His brother-in-law tells reporters that the President-elect’s game most closely resembles that of Lenny Wilkens.
A lot of good could come from this. Basketball is a global sport. At a time when much of the rest of the world is not happy with us, it might help to have a President who shoots hoops. Unlike golf, bowling, jogging, horseshoes, and cycling, basketball is a team game. Obama has written eloquently about the merging of individual skill and teamwork that is so integral to basketball.
Pickup basketball is the ultimate meritocracy – best team wins and gets next game. It is democratic and inclusive. It calls for sharing and teamwork. It demands honesty – you call your own fouls.
And it is Made in America.
Welcome to the White House, Mr. Basketball President. Let it rain. Clear everything to the foul line, make one pass when you take it out top, and play to 11 – win by 2.
You want shirts or skins?
(Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)