Obama honors Lakers at DC community center
Tuesday, December 14, 2010; 12:52 AM
No hoops were played, but there was plenty of trash-talking as President Obama honored the Los Angeles Lakers Monday afternoon for their 2010 NBA championship.
In a break from the tradition of championship teams coming to the East Room at the White House, the president welcomed the Lakers to a community center called the Town Hall Education, Arts Recreation Campus in Ward Eight. The players joined a group of kids from the Boys and Girls Club there to assemble care packages that will be given to injured soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and toiletry kits for the homeless.
After their community service, Obama and the players, dressed in black sweat suits, headed to the stage in the gym at the center.
"I want to congratulate Coach Phil Jackson on earning his 11th NBA championship ring. It was his fifth championship with the Lakers - which I should point out is still one behind the six he won with the Chicago Bulls," said Obama, who spent much of his life in Chicago and is a Bulls fan.
"Not for long," shouted Lakers point guard Derek Fisher, although Obama mistakenly thought it was Kobe Bryant and said "Kobe said, not for long, though."
Obama wasn't done. He jokingly told Bryant that Bulls point guard Derrick Rose "may have your number" and added another Bulls jab.
"It has been a long drought since Phil left Chicago, although I have to say they witnessed in person on Friday that my Bulls are showing some signs of life," Obama said.
The players laughed; the Lakers lost in Chicago to the Bulls on Friday night.
Turning serious, Obama said, "I just want to congratulate all the L.A. Lakers for being one of the outstanding sports franchises in our country and in our history."
The Lakers presented him with a signed ball and a replica of the championship banner, signed by the team.
The Laker players, in town to play the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, were with Obama for the second time in less than year, as he honored them in January for winning the 2009 NBA title.
It was the third meeting with Obama for Lakers veterans Fisher, Bryant and center Pau Gasol, who were among a group of more than a dozen current and retired players - including Laker great Earvin "Magic" Johnson - who played basketball with him in August.
Obama is a devoted hoops fan, but he has only hit the court with his daughters since an intense five-on-five game on the day after Thanksgiving left him with 12 stitches in his lip after taking an errant elbow.
The players enjoyed the good-natured back and forth.
"We are respectful, but his personality allows you to relax and be yourself," Fisher said.