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The jock in chief, getting his fill of sports?

For his 49th birthday, President Barack Obama treated himself to a game of hoops with a team of NBA all-stars. Take a look back at Obama's long love affair with basketball.

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By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"You must always remember that the president is about 6."

This advice was offered more than 100 years ago by a British friend of Teddy Roosevelt's. The nation has matured since then, and so has the presidency. Now the president is about 12.

While President Obama's wife and younger daughter were conducting international relations in Majorca on Sunday with Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, the commander in chief was at home hosting a fantasy camp for himself. He and his buddies had a birthday weekend barbecue and basketball game with LeBron James, Alonzo Mourning, Magic Johnson and other legends of the sport.

The day before, it was a four-hour golf outing for Obama and the boys. On Monday, he hosted the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints at the White House and talked about his own exploits on the gridiron last year with Saints quarterback Drew Brees. "He tossed me a nice tight spiral that I then lateraled to a kid on [Dallas Cowboys linebacker] DeMarcus Ware's shoulders," the president recalled. "I also want to point out I beat [Pittsburgh Steelers safety] Troy Polamalu over the middle on that throw." Obama turned to Brees. "You remember?"

Boys will be boys -- even if they're presidents.

It's a good thing Michelle Obama is back from her foreign trip. Otherwise Obama might have already invited the networks to film him playing H-O-R-S-E on the White House basketball court. Oh, wait: He already did that, in the spring, when basketball star and CBS Sports announcer Clark Kellogg shot some televised hoops with him.

According to unofficial presidential statistician Mark Knoller of CBS News, Obama has left the White House to play basketball 16 times so far, in addition to the countless times he has played on his home court. He's shot 44 rounds of golf, gone fishing and played tennis. Total sporting-related events hosted at the White House: 45. That's about six times the number of news conferences he has held.

He's been to see the Nationals twice this year, the last time in June with Malia and Sasha to see the Nats play Obama's White Sox. Last week, he took Sasha to see the Washington Mystics of the WNBA at Verizon Center.

Obama's foes have mocked him for playing golf more often than his sports-mad predecessor, who played only 24 rounds during his entire eight-year presidency. "Obama skips Polish funeral, heads to golf course," was one Washington Times headline. Liberals who once mocked George W. Bush's "watch this drive" moment on the golf course now speak of the need for Obama to clear his head.

Whatever the merits of head clearing (or in Bush's case, brush clearing), Obama's bachelor birthday weekend at the White House set some sort of new standard for presidential game playing: the golf at Andrews with his buddies, then basketball Sunday with pros (and former pros) such as Grant Hill and Bill Russell (and Kobe Bryant watching from the sideline), and finally, first thing Monday morning, the adoration of the Saints.

About 100 players and others were led into the East Room of the White House for a dress rehearsal of their meeting with Obama. "You're going to take the position you're in now, then we'll call out the president," a young White House aide commanded the beefy men, who were taking pictures of each other with iPhones.

The players stood on heavy-duty metal risers that were bent from the weight of the many athletes who had stood there before them. Behind the players, an oil painting of George Washington made it appear that the first president was introducing the Saints with his outstretched right arm. The 44th president was considerably more animated when he arrived for the event, preceded by jazz music and cheers of "Who dat?" He eschewed his usual teleprompter -- no need for a crutch when talking sports -- and frequently looked up from the text on the lectern to ad-lib.

"I must point out, [head coach] Sean [Payton] is a Chicago guy. I'm just sayin', " Obama teased. "You've got to be tough to be a Chicago guy. I make some tough decisions every day, but I never decided on an onside kick in the second half of the Super Bowl. That took some guts." He turned to the team owner. "Were you okay with that?"

Obama made clear where his loyalties remain, as he did when he wore his White Sox cap to throw out the first pitch for the Nationals. "Look, I'm a Bears fan -- I'm not going to lie," he told the Saints. Still, he accepted the New Orleans jersey with number 44 on it.

"Wear it in Chicago!" somebody in the audience called out.

"Don't press it," Obama shot back. "I like you all, but don't press it."

The Super Bowl champs then watched Obama fly off in his helicopter, which would take him to his waiting 747. For a 12-year-old president, it doesn't get any better than this.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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