Wizards visit the White House lawn, meet President Obama


I guess a 10-day contract is out of the question now, huh? Um, yeah. About those taxes. (AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN)

President Obama wasn’t supposed to hang around for as long as he did, but one seemingly harmless comment on the basketball court on the White House lawn – “I got to hit one shot before I go,” Obama said – turned into an unsightly ordeal that was difficult for members of the Wizards to watch.

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Nene and Emeka Okafor were participants in a basketball clinic for children at the 135th annual Easter Egg Roll and watched as the president missed badly on a series of jumpers and airmailed another. He asked for a new ball in the midst of his misfiring and missed at least 13 shots in row overall, including one layup attempt that hit nothing but the glass.

“He missed a lot in a row. We told him move in a little bit. Then he ended up missing a layup and it got out of control,” Beal said. “He has a few excuses he could use. I think he was warming up to at least sprinkle one in. I don’t know.”

Obama, a former high school basketball player in Hawaii and an avid hoops enthusiast, finally made a layup and left the court after finishing 2 of 22. The miserable shooting display led Wall to share a few jokes while offering to supply some advice.

“I told him ‘I’m on a hot stretch this month,’ ” Wall said. “I said you was shooting like I was shooting the first month I came back. He kept saying I’m going to leave for like five minutes, 10 minutes. He didn’t leave until he made one.”

Nene and Okafor, the seasoned veterans, were more diplomatic in their assessment of the president’s errant shooting. “People get nervous in that moment, because it was a lot of pressure,” Nene said, “but the message is, never quit. Never quit. He made the last shot. Took a while, but he made the shot.”

Okafor, who stood calmly with his arm behind his back, cut the president some slack based on his wardrobe and weather. “He missed more than he made, but it was cold,” Okafor said. “He had some casual shoes on, a long sleeve shirt and some khakis, so he wasn’t really in his proper attire to get in game mode.”

While at the White House, the players got to shake hands and take pictures with the president and First Lady Michelle Obama. They also had some playful interactions with the kids and each other.

“It was great besides the fact of meeting the president and First Lady, it was cool. It was terrific even though the president didn’t make as many shots as everybody else did. It was kind of disappointing. I didn’t get to see the Oval Office. I was kind of upset about that.”

Beal joked that he wanted to ask Obama to lower his taxes. When asked if he had any suggestions for the president, Okafor laughed and said, “He’s doing a great job, so I’ll let him do his job.”

Of the quartet, Okafor was the only player who had made a previous trip to the White House. He met President George W. Bush in 2004 after leading Connecticut to the NCAA title. Wall has met Obama before but he was unable to visit the White House a few years ago because he lost his identification card the day before. He was better prepared on Monday until he realized that it didn’t matter.

“We was good,” Wall said with a smile. “We was with the guy who was running the show, so we didn’t need one.”

Wall is still waiting for Obama to attend a Wizards game, something he has been pushing the president to do since he was taken first overall in 2010. Obama had planned to attend a Wizards-Heat game in 2010 but had to back out.

“I asked him again, he said he’ll let me know,” Wall said. “I think we got to make the playoffs first, but it might pop up with the Bulls coming” on Tuesday at Verizon Center.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee | April 1, 2013