On November 8th, The United States of America votes to elect a new president. Regardless of who you hope wins, soon after the election we will have to reckon with the fact that this freshly chosen POTUS will not go the extra mile to do the important things: like catch the Warriors game, or double check their fantasy lineup. He or she won’t care about the impending trade deadline or Player Efficiency Ratings of bench warmers coming into Free Agency next summer–and that’s going to make basketball a little less fun for all of us.
As a Canadian, I know that many of Barack Obama’s more nuanced political actions have gone unnoticed by the outside world. I doubt if him implementing the “Women’s Owned Business” contracting program or expanding Veterans’ centers in rural areas made front page headlines up here, but even without intimate knowledge of every positive change Obama managed to achieve as commander in chief, I still knew he was a good person. This is because I first saw him playing pickup games with teenagers at campaign stops across America, then with USMC officers in Kuwait, and then with White House employees on Pennsylvania Avenue. Plus he released his NCAA bracket every year, despite his selections being the ridicule of every sports blog and drive time radio show host. So much of what made President Obama personable and electable was the fact that he seemed like a dude you could play with at the YMCA on any given Sunday; the everyman perfected. Finally we had a someone who grew up a hoop purist with presidential pedigree that made you excited to see him elected. A guy who ironically beat NBA Hall of Famer Bill Bradley in 2000 on the way to Washington.
You’ve heard the story: A young, pre-mainland Barry and his Hawaiian contemporaries the Choom Gang spending their lazy afternoons (allegedly) smoking mid 70’s island marijuana and (certainly) honing their basketball skills on the blacktop. Its an origin that is atypically presidential; his contemporaries stereotypically spent their time wearing ties, joining secret societies, and keeping the middle class down (or whatever). Obama instead played ball all through his teen years, taking his playground game all the way to Punahou School’s Varsity squad in his senior year (after fighting through the three JV teams the Honolulu basketball powerhouse used to separate the Kahunas from the Keikis). The young man earned minutes off the bench during his team’s championship run, despite the program favoring those who played a “whiter” brand of ball than the 17 year old Barack did. An outlier even then.
Skipping ahead a whopping 38 years; Obama is now entering the last months of his second term serving as the first African-American president of the United States, and he’s doing it with the same quiet prestige that the humble greats like Bill Russell or Tim Duncan did before him. I don’t mean to knock any former presidents, but frankly, the smiles have been bigger across the faces of many NBA Champions visiting The White House since Obama took office. Many of these players have had an instant connection with the Commander In Chief through race, class and most importantly–hoops.
Kobe Bryant broke it down after his first time meeting the president, saying “I spent time with President Bush as well, but you know President Obama’s knowledge about the game is a little bit more extensive.” To feel like you’ve got an ally running your country and keeping an eye on your profession must be an incredible thing. In this, the age of awakening for many athletes concerned with social justice and equality, Obama’s stances and support are a welcomed inspiration and a beacon of hope for change.
Beyond the gates of the White House, Obama has expressed interest in owning part of an NBA franchise. Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe reported “potentially, if the opportunity arose, under the right circumstances.” But perhaps the President’s trepidation is only a result of his team the Chicago Bulls’ track record over the past few years. If D-Rose still had knees and was still in Bulls uniform dunking over tall Europeans in March you could bet Obama would more than “potentially” want to be involved, maybe as Chicago’s GM. He would be the complete physical and moral opposite of Jerry Krause. Think about it, “GM Obama” just has a certain ring to it.
So, all hail the basketball president: The first POTUS of our generation to reflect the interests we hold dear, to inspire excitement and change in NBA champions and regular civilians alike. All hail the left handed Hawaiian with the meanest YMCA game to ever grace the Oval Office, the one who deserved both a track pant sponsorship and a more cooperative senate. Bid farewell to the transplanted Chicago kid who dreamt about making political change, achieving presidency, and owning a stake in his hometown heroes.
On behalf of basketball fans everywhere, thank you Barry.
Wish us luck on November 8th.