Reynaldo Decerega's elbow enters history

Decerega, in a 1991 yearbook photo from Alexandria's St. Stephen's School.
Decerega, in a 1991 yearbook photo from Alexandria's St. Stephen's School.
By Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 29, 2010; 6:00 AM

In high school Reynaldo Decerega was voted "most mature" and "most popular." In college they called him "Nice Guy Rey." In his professional life, his efforts to help advance Latino communities across the country made him a finalist for MillerCoors leader of the year.

But on Friday, Decerega forever became known as "The Elbow."

Decerega, the director of programs for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, inadvertently busted President Obama's lip during a pickup game at Fort McNair. The incident, and the resulting 12 stitches, became front page fodder ("Fat Lip," read the New York Post, alongside a picture of Obama pressing an ice pack to his mouth.) Decerega became a Google search term and issued a painful statement.

"I learned today the president is both a tough competitor and a good sport," Decerega said in a White House-sanctioned statement Friday night. "I enjoyed playing basketball with him this morning. I'm sure he'll be back out on the court again soon."

Whether Decerega will is another matter.

A White House official with knowledge of the incident, and eager to make the president look as tough as possible, said that Decerega required a hospital visit after the collision and received some stitches himself. A spokesman for the ongressional Hispanic Caucus Insitute, Scott Gunderson Rosa, specified that Decerega received four stitches to the offending elbow. In an e-mail, Decerega said he planned to comment further on the matter on Monday, adding, "I appreciate your ability to honor my privacy."

In other words, playing with the president can be personally dangerous.

At first blush, Decerega appeared to have won the draft for the most coveted game in town. Organized by Obama's towering personal assistant, former Duke basketball player and presidential pickup regular Reggie Love, the games almost always include Education Secretary Arne Duncan, various members of what Obama once called "the best basketball-playing Cabinet in American history" as well as friends or family of top officials passing through town.

Neither the White House nor Decerega would say how the former varsity "Saint" at St. Stephen's in Alexandria got the call. But it is not at all surprising that he accepted the invitation.

The upsides of playing with the president are obvious. For starters, you get to tell people you played with the president. You ooze "access." You can hold forth about how basketball offers a window into the president's real character, as the first lady's brother, Craig Robinson - once a collegiate player and now Oregon State's coach - has done in interviews and a recent book.

White House sources said they had never heard of anyone declining an invitation to play with the president for anything other than scheduling reasons.

After the Decerega debacle, riding the bench might be a more attractive option.

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