Obama: I had "Linsanity" early

Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade (3) and New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin (17) chase down a loose ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Feb. 23, 2012, in Miami. AP Photo/Alan Diaz

In a sports-focused interview Wednesday with Grantland's Bill Simmons, President Obama said he had "Linsanity" - that is, enthusiasm for New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin - before most of the rest of the country.

"I knew about Jeremy before you did, or everybody else did, because Arne Duncan, my Secretary of Education, was captain of the Harvard team," said Mr. Obama. "And so way back when, Arne and I were playing and he said, 'I'm telling you, we've got this terrific guard named Jeremy Lin at Harvard.' And then one of my best friends, his son is a freshman at Harvard, and so when he went for a recruiting trip he saw Lin in action. So I've been on the Jeremy Lin bandwagon for a while."

Asked if he was taking credit for "Linsanity," the president replied: "I can't take credit for it, but I'm just saying I was there early."

Mr. Obama also discussed his 49th birthday party during the interview, when he invited a number of National Basketball Association stars to the White House for a game. He said he "did a little crossover" on Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul, saying he surprised the point guard with the move; "my crossover," said the president, "is solid."

"He claims that he could have stolen the ball," said Mr. Obama. "Everybody who was there knows that that's not true. The second time, he might have stolen the ball. The first time he didn't know I had that move on me."

Mr. Obama insisted that his opponents don't go easy on him, saying the evidence is that "I'm always getting knocked around."

"I don't know what people are talking about," he said in reference to suggestions that the other players tread lightly, perhaps out of fear of injuring the president. "Reggie Love, my former aide who played at Duke and he's now getting his MBA, he answered anybody who said that people took it easy on me when they played with me. He said, nobody takes it easy on Obama because if he beats them, they won't hear the end of it."

Later in the interview, Mr. Obama said he gave advice to Paul to pass along to his teammate Blake Griffin "to just take that 12-, 15-footer when he gets it because he's got a good stroke, but he always looks like he's hesitating a little bit because he wants to go inside."

According to Mr. Obama, Paul responded, "Man, I just told him that" and went on to pass on the president's advice. Mr. Obama suggested Griffin had taken it. "I will point out that I think he's been taking more outside jumpers," he said. "That's good."

A Chicago Bulls fan, Mr. Obama predicted he'd have a chance to welcome the team to the Oval Office in the next five years - something that would require both that he win a second term and the Bulls win a championship relatively soon. He also said that he watches ESPN's "Sportscenter" in the morning while working out - "I don't watch network news or cable news" - and "every once in a while I'll sneak in a ball game as I'm reading my briefings" at night. He added that he has NBA League Pass on his iPad.

The president also said he is "very proud of the fact I do not cheat when I'm playing golf" and that he would like to see an eight-team college football playoff, "but four is a good place to start." He also offered up a rumination on why sports tend to resonate with Americans.

"People -- for all our differences politically, regionally, economically -- most folks understand sports," he said. "Probably because it's one of the few places where it's a true meritocracy. There's not a lot of BS. Ultimately, who's winning, who's losing, who's performing, who's not -- it's all laid out there."

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