L.A. Lakers Come to the White House

President Obama lauded the reigning NBA champions at the White House today, proclaiming that "nobody exemplifies excellence in basketball better than the Los Angeles Lakers last year."

"The only thing that is better than watching basketball is playing basketball, but I'm 48 and soon to be 49, and it's a little harder these days to move around on the court, especially when you're playing against kids who are half your age," he said.

The president went on to say he still gets "enormous, enormous pleasure from watching great athletes" like the Lakers, who have won 15 NBA titles.

"This is a team that never lost its focus last season -– from the first tip-off to the final buzzer," he said. "...Everyone was willing to do what it took to get a little stronger, to play a little harder, and to bring home that title."

Referring to coach Phil Jackson as "the Zen Master," Mr. Obama said he'd been a fan since Jackson used the triangle offense while coaching the Chicago Bulls. He noted that Jackson had won 10 championships, adding that "I do want to point out that six of them came with the Bulls."

Former Lakers great Magic Johnson was on hand for the event, and the president joked around with him during the speech, referencing the 1991 NBA championship in which the Lakers lost to the Bulls. "You remember that, Magic," the president said, mentioning Michael Jordan's performance and noting that "[John] Paxson was hitting all those shots."

He joked that the Lakers "were feeling cocky" after they won Game 1 in that series. The team would go on to lose the next four games. Later, he hailed Johnson as an "outstanding leader" with an "infections enthusiasm about life."

Mr. Obama said he wished Jackson had brought some books along with him as a gift, as is his habit. The president said he wanted to give the books to members of Congress "maybe to get them to start playing like a team together."

He called Lakers star Kobe Bryant "one of the most competitive players I've ever seen." Noting that Bryant was playing and leading his team with a broken finger, he said he "would have trouble getting out of bed" in the same situation.

Mr. Obama went on to note the efforts by the NBA and some of its players to help in the Haiti relief efforts, pointing out that the league and Players Association had donated $1 million.

he also pointed out that players including Pau Gasol had made individual pledges tied to their scoring performances through the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund.

Gasol pledged $1,000 for each point he scored against the New York Knicks in a recent game.

"I'm glad he dropped 20," said the president.