Guys, it’s an election year, so it’s important to have all the facts before deciding who you think should be President of the United States of America. And while we here at TBJ aren’t going to tell you how to vote, especially because most of us can’t actually vote in the States, we do want to do our part to keep you informed.
That’s why we present to you Michael Lewis’ account of playing basketball with Barack Obama. It’s pretty great and kind of long but it’s Michael Lewis writing about basketball so deal with it. From Vanity Fair:
At nine o’clock one Saturday morning I made my way to the Diplomatic Reception Room, on the ground floor of the White House. I’d asked to play in the president’s regular basketball game, in part because I wondered how and why a 50-year-old still played a game designed for a 25-year-old body, in part because a good way to get to know someone is to do something with him. I hadn’t the slightest idea what kind of a game it was. The first hint came when a valet passed through bearing, as if they were sacred objects, a pair of slick red-white-and-blue Under Armour high-tops with the president’s number (44) on the side. Then came the president, looking like a boxer before a fight, in sweats and slightly incongruous black rubber shower shoes. As he climbed into the back of a black S.U.V., a worried expression crossed his face. “I forgot my mouth guard,” he said. Your mouth guard? I think. Why would you need a mouth guard?
“Hey, Doc,” he shouted to the van holding the medical staff that travels with him wherever he goes. “You got my mouth guard?” The doc had his mouth guard. Obama relaxed back in his seat and said casually that he didn’t want to get his teeth knocked out this time, “since we’re only 100 days away.” From the election, he meant, then he smiled and showed me which teeth, in some previous basketball game, had been knocked out. “Exactly what kind of game is this?” I asked, and he laughed and told me not to worry. He doesn’t. “What happens is, as I get older, the chances I’m going to play well go down. When I was 30 there was, like, a one-in-two chance. By the time I was 40 it was more like one in three or one in four.” He used to focus on personal achievement, but as he can no longer achieve so much personally, he’s switched to trying to figure out how to make his team win. In his decline he’s maintaining his relevance and sense of purpose.
OK, so he’s always prepared and realizes that he needs to play in a game that is suitable for a 51-year-old man. Not some kind of crazy game that’s going to leave him sore, out of sorts and possibly the worst player on the floor, which would be unbecoming of a president.
Not so fast.
Basketball hadn’t appeared on the president’s official schedule, and so we traveled the streets of Washington unofficially, almost normally. A single police car rode in front of us, but there were no motorcycles or sirens or whirring lights: we even stopped at red lights. It still took only five minutes to get to the court inside the F.B.I. The president’s game rotates around several federal courts, but he prefers the F.B.I.’s because it is a bit smaller than a regulation court, which reduces also the advantages of youth. A dozen players were warming up. I recognized Arne Duncan, the former captain of the Harvard basketball team and current secretary of education. Apart from him and a couple of disturbingly large and athletic guys in their 40s, everyone appeared to be roughly 28 years old, roughly six and a half feet tall, and the possessor of a 30-inch vertical leap. It was not a normal pickup basketball game; it was a group of serious basketball players who come together three or four times each week. Obama joins when he can. “How many of you played in college?” I asked the only player even close to my height. “All of us,” he replied cheerfully and said he’d played point guard at Florida State. “Most everyone played pro too—except for the president.” Not in the N.B.A., he added, but in Europe and Asia.
Haha. Of course Barack Obama plays with a bunch of former college and pro basketball players. Who’s going to tell him no? “Sorry man, we’ve got enough already.” Yeah, right.
But now that you know what kind of games Obama plays in (very good ones), you might be wondering if there are any special rules for playing against the POTUS. And yes there are. Two of them in fact: 1) Don’t take it easy on the president and 2) Remember he’s the president.
“No one seems to be taking it easy on him,” I said.
“If you take it easy on him, you’re not invited back,” [a former Florida State point guard] explained.
I thought to myself, It must be hard not to take it easy on the president.
The point guard laughed, turned to another guy on the bench, and said, “Remember Rey?”
“Who’s Rey?” I asked.
“Rey pump-faked, turned, and just connected with the president right in the mouth,” the other guy said. “Gave him 16 stitches.”
“Where’s Rey?” I asked.
“Rey hasn’t been back.”
Kind of confusing, but I can see why you wouldn’t want to have the President of the United States of America getting elbowed in the face all the time. Sounds like Jeff Foster shouldn’t expect any White House invites for a pickup game.
And finally, the stuff we’ve all been waiting for — how does Barack Obama play? Is he any good?
Obama could find a perfectly respectable game with his equals in which he could shoot and score and star, but this is the game he wants to play. It’s ridiculously challenging, and he has very little space to maneuver, but he appears happy. He’s actually just good enough to be useful to his team, as it turns out. Not flashy, but he slides in to take charges, passes well, and does a lot of little things well. The only risk he takes is his shot, but he shoots so seldom, and so carefully, that it actually isn’t much of a risk at all. (He smiles when he misses; when he makes one, he looks even more serious.) “Spacing is big. He knows where to go,” said one of the other players as we watched. “And unlike a lot of lefties, he can go to his right.”
And he chattered constantly. “You can’t leave him open like that!” … “Money!” … “Take that shot!” His team jumped ahead, mainly because it took fewer stupid shots. When I threw one up I discovered the reason for this. When you are on the president’s basketball team and you take a stupid shot, the president of the United States screams at you. “Don’t be looking to the sidelines all sheepish,” he hollered at me. “You got to get back and play D!”
Sounds like a pretty solid role player who’s so devoted to his team he doesn’t want anybody taking stupid shots. I don’t know if that’s what I’d have guessed, but I guess it seems about right. He is a dad, after all. It’s not like he’s going to be lighting up 28-year-olds. It makes sense that he’d play some nice dad ball and try to help his team win. Sounds like a real reach-across-the-aisle type of basketball player, which is a political joke that I just totally nailed.
Go read the whole profile, since it’s pretty interesting and you can learn some more great basketball tidbits about Obama, like that he travels with the nuclear football to his pickup games which is both totally obvious and still very funny. I don’t care who you vote for, but let’s admit that, as basketball fans, it’s pretty fun to have a basketball fan in office. Next time he visits Canada, we’ve got a game he can get in.