Obama Honors WNBA Champion Phoenix Mercury

AP

Since taking office, President Obama has held 21 events to honor championship teams in amateur and professional sports.

Today in the State Dining Room, he offered congratulations to the 2009 WNBA Champion Phoenix Mercury.

"I know how much hard work goes into a championship season," said the President in praise of the team.

Such presidential events are meant to be light-hearted in words and spirit. At today's reception for the Mercury, some of whose members stood taller in their heels than is Mr. Obama, he thanked them for "setting a wonderful example."

"Because I live with 3 tall, good-looking women who are quite competitive and push me around under the boards all the time," said the president of his wife and daughters.

The tributes to sports teams are a long-stranding presidential tradition. They are political events designed to endear the politician in the Oval Office to the fans of the teams he honors. The current White House prefers it not be seen that way.

"It's an opportunity for the President to celebrate excellence and achievement in our country," said Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton when asked to explain why championship sports teams receive a presidential tribute.

I traced the practice at least as far back as the 30th President of the United States.

In October of 1924, Calvin Coolidge welcomed the Washington Senators back to D.C. after winning the American League championship.

"The Washington team won because it deserved to win," said Pres. Coolidge at a ceremony at the Zero Milestone just south of the White House grounds. "By bringing the baseball pennant to Washington, you have made the National Capital more truly the center of worthy and honorable national aspirations."

In a Rose Garden event in May of 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower offered some advice to the U.S. team taking part in the World Amateur Golf Tournament.

Admitting his own "great love" of the sport, "Ike" had some tongue-in-cheek advice for the U.S. golf team.

"I think if you take along some high handicappers and let them play at their full handicaps everybody will have a big time," he said, perhaps reflecting his own high handicaps on the links.

By inviting championship teams to the White House, presidents not only get to score some political points, they accumulate a huge collection of sports memorabilia, including autographed footballs, soccer balls, basketballs and baseballs from the team being honored. In addition, no team comes to the White House without a cap and team jersey to present to the fan-in-chief and occasionally, to members of his family.

The teams receiving tributes from President Obama so far include:

-The Chicago Bulls pro basketball team

-The U.S. Naval Academy football team (twice)

-The University of Florida football team

-University of Connecticut women's basketball team (twice)

-University of North Carolina men's basketball team

-The Philadelphia Phillies

-The Pittsburgh Steelers

-The Columbus Crew major league soccer team

-The WNBA Detroit Shock

-The Pittsburgh Penguins

-The Los Angeles Lakers

-The Park View Little

-The Alabama Crimson Tide men's football team

-The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams

-The Duke Blue Devils

-The Real Salt Lake major league soccer

-The Sky Blue FC womens professional soccer

-The WNBA Phoenix Mercury


Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/markknoller.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.

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