It’s not much of a contest; on paper, at least. A 6-foot, 2-inch, 180-pound, 47-year-old amateur against a 6-foot, 8-inch, 250-pound, 24-year-old pro who won the National Basketball Association’s Most-Valuable Player award this year. Except the amateur will have home-court advantage: the South Lawn of the White House.
In an interview with Bloomberg News this week, President Barack Obama said he would soon invoke executive privilege to summon the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James and possibly other NBA stars to the White House to shoot some hoops. “As soon as we get the basketball nets up we’re going to have some of these guys over for a game,” Obama said. Asked if he’d be playing, Obama bristled: “Of course. It’s my court.” James paid a visit to the White House on June 15. Obama said he was awed by both the size and skills of the man who averaged 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.2 assists this season in helping take his team to the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
“When you get up close to him he’s a legitimate six- eight, six-nine. He’s huge. Moving that kind of speed? It’s pretty remarkable,” Obama said. Miami Heat Guard Dwyane Wade visited the White House yesterday to promote a Father’s Day mentoring program.
For all James’ prowess, he may need to break a sweat when he takes on Obama. The president is the most active athlete to occupy the White House in recent memory, and he will soon make history as the first to have his own court. The venue will be the White House tennis court, shrouded in pine trees on the South Lawn, which is being repurposed as a home for the new one-man Team USA. Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, said work is currently under way on the project. Basketball lines are being painted on the tennis court and removable basketball hoops are being installed. Ann Smith, the White House liaison for the National Park Service who is in charge of the maintenance of White House grounds, said it cost $4,995 to clean and “restripe,” or paint fresh lines on the court and an “incidental” fee to cover the poles holding up the tennis net. Earnest wouldn’t comment on the cost of the hoops.
Obama, a lifelong player, even found time for pick-up games in the midst of a grueling campaign. In an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams on June 2, he said he has played “a couple of times” since taking office in January. “For an old guy,” he said, “I’m hanging in there.”
“Basketball is a game where you have to bump into other people,” said Claude Johnson, 49, whose blog “Baller-in- Chief.com” links to articles about the president and his love of the game. Johnson said reaction to the site has been “explosive.” Though an average player in high school, Obama had a solid longshot, earning him the nickname “Barry O- Bomber,” he said. Johnson said basketball has helped Obama connect to young people and has shaped his character.
“The world is analogous to a pick-up game of basketball,” Johnson said. “Since you never know whose side you’re going to be on the next time around, you’re not interested in destroying teammates.” There is no shortage of people who want to watch the president play. A “Barack O-Balla” posting on YouTube, which strings together clips of Obama playing basketball to a rap soundtrack, has gotten more than 400,000 hits.
See, I was always under the impression that you had to win the championship to meet the president. My fault, huh? How'd I get that crazy notion in my head?