President Obama Loves Pickup Basketball Way More Than You Think

  • Dylan Murphy

Everyone’s pretty familiar with Barack Obama’s basketball obsession, both as a fan of the Chicago Bulls and current pickup aficionado. Michael Lewis, author of “The Blind Side” and “Moneyball,” among other things, was granted unprecedented access to an active President and wrote a huge feature for Vanity Fair detailing what he learned about Obama. We really recommend you comb through the whole thing, as there are a lot of interesting tidbits about the sitting president. But Lewis learned of Obama’s basketball obsession too, so we wanted to share with you some particularly choice passages from the piece, as well as Lewis’ NPR interview about his time spent with the president.

Via Vanity Fair:

“The president ran a couple of laps around the gym, then shouted, “Let’s go!” He himself divvied up the teams so each one had roughly the same number of giants and the same number of old people. Having put me on his team, he turned to me and said, “We’ll sit you first, until we get a little bit of a lead.” I thought he was joking, but actually he wasn’t; he was as serious as a heart attack. I was benched. I took my place in the wooden stands, along with a few of the other players, and the White House photographer, the medical team, the Secret Service, and the guy with the buzz cut who carried the nuclear football, to watch the president play.

Obama was 20 or more years older than most of them, and probably not as physically gifted, though it was hard to say because of the age differences. No one held back, no one deferred. Guys on his team dribbled past him and ignored the fact he was wide open. When he drives through the streets, crowds part, but when he drives to the basket large, hostile men slide over to cut him off. It’s revealing that he would seek out a game like this but even more that others would give it to him: no one watching would have been able to guess which guy was president. As a player on the other team, who must have outweighed Obama by a hundred pounds, backed the president of the United States down and knocked the crap out of him, all for the sake of a single layup, I leaned over to the former Florida State point guard.

‘No one seems to be taking it easy on him,’ I said.

‘If you take it easy on him, you’re not invited back,’ he 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.'”

So Obama plays up to the competition. Everyone at the game was a former college player, with most playing professionally in Asia or Europe. Then there’s old man river Obama, spacing the floor and shouting instructions and trying to run the show. It sounds like a lot of regular pickups games, where old-timer doles out instructions and criticism and pats on the back and words of wisdom because he’s old-timer, and that’s what old timer does. Nevermind that he’s the weakest link forcing his teammates to overcompensate.

Also, gotta love that the nuclear football is just sitting there. “Hold on guys, let me just BLOW UP THE MIDDLE EAST. Okay, we’re good to go. 7-4. BALL IN.”

And here’s some good stuff from Lewis’ NPR interview:

“And at that the – when the game was over and it was clear [Obama’s] team had won four of the six games, you could see that the reason that his team had won was that the players on his team didn’t take stupid shots because they were afraid the president was going to scream at them if they did.”

That’s some pretty good motivation right there.

[Vanity Fair, NPR]

Photo via Getty