As the next President, Barack Obama’s love of sports is no different than that of his predecessors.
But while most identified with baseball (George W. Bush) or football (Gerald Ford starring for Michigan in the 1930’s), Obama has become synonymous with basketball – a game that helped him “forge an identity” according to his memoir “Dreams From My Father”
Bill Clinton was perhaps the first President openly connected to the sport. He cheered from the stands as his Arkansas Razorbacks won a NCAA title in 1994 and lost to UCLA in the 1995 championship game.
And who can forget that he, along with his wife Hillary and vice-president Al Gore, was a secret character in the video game NBA Jam and its sequel NBA JAM: Tournament Edition?
But to the public, it’s Obama’s background with the game that stands out. Numerous videos have been shown of him driving to the hole or pulling up for that lefty jump shot.
He played pick-up games before every primary election as well as on the day of his historic election. Even grainy footage has been uncovered from his days at Punahou High School in Hawaii, where he was a reserve on the team that won the 1979 state championship.
And yes, many know by now that Oregon State men’s basketball coach Craig Robinson is his brother-in-law.
To those who follow sports closely, it’s his statements about wanting a college football playoff instead of the BCS, that have taken plenty of notice and far more significance.
Ever since he told ESPN his desires on November 3 – and reiterated it this month when asked during a recent press conference – it added one more voice to the argument that many who watch college football have made since the BCS was instituted in 1998.
An argument that grew loud again this month when USC, Texas and Utah felt that they should’ve played for the national title against Florida.
But is that unique? It wouldn’t be the first team a President would be accused of throwing his weight in a sports issue.
Richard Nixon once suggested a play call to Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula before Super Bowl VI. It doesn’t matter that it didn’t work; the fact that he did it showed that he followed the sport enough to make the guess.
It’s hard to imagine Obama calling up a team during the NBA Finals and making any recommendations.
His campaign, however, did attract a variety of athletes to his behalf. Athletes of all walks of life rallied behind him and normally apolitical figures like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods were moved to act.
Woods spoke on Sunday during the “We Are One” pre-inauguration concert/celebration and for someone who is known for not speaking out on things, it says a lot that the Obama camp convinced him to be there.
As a nation that loves its sports as much as anything else, Obama’s connection with it mirrors many of his supporters. Those who play basketball can identify with him playing pick-up games and those who play fantasy sports know that he’ll be among their ranks come football season.
Some think that it’s stereotypical to keep associating the nation’s first Black president with basketball – a sport that has been identified more and more with Black players. They think that it plays on certain assumptions about how Blacks enjoy their leisure time.
One has to ask, though, that for someone who has been hailed as a role model for Black youth, wouldn’t it be a positive to see that person doing things that they perhaps might do.
That’s what makes him unique as a sports-loving president. Not just that he plays basketball like most who seek recreation, but he’s someone that fans of all races can relate to because he thinks like them.
He lives and dies with his local teams (Chicago Bears and White Sox) and has opinions on the issues of the day.
Don’t be surprised if when he gets called the nation’s No. 1 sports fan, it won’t feel like a ceremonial title.