For Obama, the Sport Is Much More Than a Game

"I could get to the rim on anybody," said Barack Obama, here with his 1977 high school team in Honolulu. He said he could beat President Bush in 1-on-1. (Punahou School Via Associated Press)
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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Barack Obama says growing up without a father led him to play basketball and the game offered him a chance to identify racially in Hawaii, a state without a large black population.

"Here is a place where being black was not a disadvantage," Obama told Bryant Gumbel. "Here was a sport in which we were dominant. All those things, I think, contributed to the idea that there's something special about this."

The Democratic presidential candidate talked about his love of the game in a segment that aired last night on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel."

Basketball "connects up with the African American experience in a special way," he said. "Almost in the same way that jazz music connects up with African American culture. There's an aspect of improvisation within a discipline that I find very, very powerful."

An avid basketball player even on the campaign trail, Obama was a member of his school's state championship team in 1979.

He said his strength wasn't his jump shot, but getting around defenders. "My actual talent was in my first step," he said. "I could get to the rim on anybody."

Obama occasionally shoots hoops with his Secret Service agents.

"Any time I fell down, everyone went, 'Ooh,' " he said. "Here's the fact of the matter. I probably should not break my nose on the basketball court, I've done that once. I've lost a tooth."

Asked if he would like to play President Bush in a game of one-on-one, Obama expressed confidence.

"You know, he looks like a pretty good athlete; he takes that mountain biking seriously," he said. "But I'm pretty certain I can take him."

-- From News Services

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