On Saturday night, Jon Larranaga's friend Art Jackson sent him a text, asking Larranaga to call as soon as he could. When the two men were on the phone, Jackson explained the situation: President Obama was looking to get a basketball workout in Sunday morning, and needed some more players. Larranaga--a former D-I forward at George Mason--was invited.
"Hey, can my brother play too?" Larrannaga quickly asked. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, I've got to get the whole family involved if I can."
And so, about 12 hours later, Jon, Jay, and their father Jim showed up for a Presidential pick-up game at Fort McNair. Jon, 29, and Jay, 35--who played at Bowling Green and later professionally in Europe--were teamed with Obama, his personal aide Reggie Love, and two others. ("Good decision-maker," Jon noted of the president. "The guy obviously knows how to pick teams.") On the other side were six of Love's friends, many of whom play with Love in a weekly league and who had faced off with the president before.
"The other team was comfortable, talking trash, and he's talking back," Jon Larranaga told me this week. "If he wasn't the president, you'd be alike, 'All right, he's just another guy getting a workout in here.' But he's the president, so everybody's a little nervous, not really sure what to do, how to play. We actually got spanked the first game."
(Their father, the George Mason coach, was doing exactly what you'd expect: standing on the sidelines and querying one of Obama's aides about presidential protocol. The coach, as The New York Times reported last year, has a photo of himself with the president in his office, and Mason has presented Obama with one of Larranaga's globe basketballs.)
(Jackson, one of the founders of One on One Basketball, coached under Jim Larranaga at Bowling Green, and plays in a weekly Saturday morning game with both Jon Larranaga and Love, which is how this whole thing came to be. Jon Larranaga's wife used to work in the office of Vice President Cheney, but she of course wanted Jon to play presidential hoops if he had the chance, partisan politics be danged. Respecting the office, and all that.)
Anyhow, the guys were playing full-court five-on-five, games to 21, by twos and threes. After the first loss, the Larranagas, Obama and friends rattled off four straight wins, with the president hitting a game-winning jumper from just past the free-throw line in the final game. Obama gave all his teammates high fives, made a crack about the losing team and posed for photos with both teams. Jon described the experience as "awesome," and said he absolutely would accept a second invitation.
"I didn't know what to expect. I've never spent an hour and a half, two hours with the President of the United States before," he told me. "The president couldn't have been a nicer guy. I really felt like he was just trying to get a workout in, a little break from the stresses of his job. My dad goes to the movies when he needs a break; he plays basketball."
(Full credit to Steve Goff, who first reported about this game in The Post.)