"Hoops" Obama Takes Game To White House

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. goes for a shot while playing basketball at Maple Crest Elementary gym during the 3 on 3 game in Kokomo, Ind. on Friday April 25, 2008. AP/Kokomo Tribune, Tim Bath

It may have been just an impression, but Barack Obama seemed to spend as much time dribbling up the hardwood during the presidential campaign as he did prepping for debates.

Whether it was shooting hoops on outdoor courts in rural Iowa, practicing with college basketball powerhouse UNC, or bonding with the troops at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, the future president frequently made time to indulge his passion for basketball, which served as a way to both relieve stress and connect with voters.

And no matter how big events grew around him, Mr. Obama always seemed to make time for a game. It became a ritual on primary days. Mr. Obama played on the morning of his victory in Iowa, but didn't play the day he lost in New Hampshire - a campaign "mistake" not to be repeated.

On Election Day, hours before making history as the nation's first black president, Mr. Obama gathered about 40 people to play a round-robin tournament in a Chicago gym.

So now that he's in office, what will happen to the president's basketball habit?

Mr. Obama had said previously that he planned to replace the bowling alley put in by Richard Nixon with a full-sized court. But when questioned during an impromptu visit to the White House press room Thursday, the president said that "we installed a new backboard on the tennis court and so we'll be able to play full court."

But as of yet, there have been no lay-ups, dribble drives or jump shots for the president.

"It's been too cold," he told reporters.

Maybe Mr. Obama should explore other options.

According to Baller-In-Chief, a Web site devoted to "Obama and Basketball. Period," a California businessman has offered to install a new court on the White House grounds for free.

"He's the new leader of the free world and he's totally into basketball," Jeff Barker, a local franchisee of Rhino Sports, told the Sacramento Bee.

Or perhaps President Obama will settle on a miniaturized version of the game. New York Magazine suggested the president might want to invest in a Fold-A-Hoop to make those long hours in the Oval Office more passable.

Whenever and wherever Mr. Obama decides to lace up his sneakers, he should have plenty of options to fill up a game.

During the transition, then President-elect Obama bragged about "putting together the best basketball-playing cabinet in American history," with the nominations of Arne Duncan for education secretary (he played for Harvard) and Eric Holder for attorney general (he played for Columbia).

And on the campaign trail, Mr. Obama's personal aide, and frequent pick-up teammate, was Reggie Love, captain of the 2005 Duke Blue Devils.

Mr. Obama's list of worthy recruits to post up is lengthy and his passion for playing has become a part of his public persona. But his fascination with sports is hardly new for a president.

"It's pretty clear that the last four presidents (including Obama) have used sports as a means of coping with stress," said John Sayle Watterson, author of "The Games Presidents Play: Sports and the Presidency."

"It appears that Barack Obama - the one thing that he will not give up any day of the week is his workout."

While sports may be a stress-reducer, presidents are also savvy enough to use them to project their own self-image as healthy, vitalic leaders, said Watterson. Theodore Roosevelt's love of the outdoors garnered him the reputation as the nation' first "sporting president." Herbert Hoover gathered Cabinet officials, Supreme Court justices and press members for early morning sessions of medicine ball on the White House lawn. Dwight Eisenhower had his putting green, Nixon had his bowling alley and Bill Clinton had his track.

Obama has his basketball.

In fact, some link Mr. Obama's political success with skills related to the court - a fiery competitiveness and the ability to relate to "common people."

In Sports Illustrated's most recent cover story, titled "The Audacity of Hoops," Craig Robinson, Mr. Obama's brother-in-law and Oregon State coach, said that basketball is the reason the president is "sitting where he's sitting."

But, at least for right now, Mr. Obama needs to find a place to play.

By Daniel Carty
  • Daniel Carty

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