What I Learned About President Obama From Playing Basketball With Him

National Journal

President Obama's miserable 2-for-22 shooting performance at the White House Easter Egg Roll is an Internet sensation, with wince-inducing video on scores of news sites and Twitter streams overflowing with hoops hazing. Come on, give the guy a break.

As I wrote in 2008 after playing a pickup basketball game with then-Sen. Barack Obama, "Hillary may have Bill. But Barack's got game."

Dude can play.

"Obama is extremely confident with his game, for good reason," I wrote in an April 29, 2008, story for the Associated Press. "He glides more than runs, high and soft on the balls of his feet and with graceful strides that put enough space between himself and his opponents to launch a solid left-handed jump shot. Obama, who usually plays with younger men, says he's a step too fast for most his age."

Obama invited me to play hoops with him on the morning of the Pennsylvania primary, shortly after telling HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, "You can tell something about people by the way they play basketball."  I tried to tease out a few clues about the man who would be president. My lede:

He's confident and competitive. Superstitious and silly. Admits his mistakes. Shares credit. Always in control. That's Barack Obama on the basketball court, the hardwood hideaway that helped him adjust to a white world as a racially mixed teenager -- and now stands as a sweaty platform for his Democratic presidential campaign.

The story ended with a mixed metaphor on politics and hoops:

You don't realize how skinny Obama is until you're banging against him underneath the rim, his bony hips giving easily to brawnier competitors. But despite his size, Obama took every opportunity to careen recklessly through the lane with his signature move:

Fake right and drive hard to the left.

A political statement? "Nah," he said with a wan and sweaty smile. "I just love this game."

You can read the full story ("Cocky and competitive: Basketball is Obama's sweaty platform"). Or just trust me: POTUS can shoot the lights out.

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