Long before he moved into the White House, President Obama was “Barry O’Bomber” on Hawaii’s Punahou High renowned basketball team. This is just one of the fun facts we learned thanks to a delightful set of interviews NBC News published on Friday about Obama’s high school basketball career. While the whole piece is worth a read, here are a few of the best tidbits.
* Obama earned the nickname “Barry O’Bomber” because of his love of taking difficult shots — which he often missed, according to former teammate Darin Mauer.
* Obama was mostly a bench warmer on the team, which was regarded as one of the best in the nation. But he wasn’t happy about it.
“He made an appointment to see me one day and he brought along a couple other guys who wanted more playing time,” recalled Obama’s former high school coach, Chris McLachlin.
“I gave them more playing time,” McLachlin added. “He represented [himself and his teammates] in a very dignified, respectful way. Made a strong case for them.”
* Obama scored a basket in the championship game of his team’s 1979 state title victory, former teammate Tom Toplinski recalled.
* Obama could not spell, Toplinski also added. Toplinski proved it when he showed NBC News his high school yearbook. In it, a young Obama wrote, “You were my main comp. in B-ball, but their [sic] is know [sic] one I would rather play against. You [sic] a talented player with a good sense of humor. Stay cool this summer and see you at summer league. Friends always, Barry. P.S. Football will kill you.”
* Speaking of football, Obama also tried out for that team, but he didn’t appear to make it. (Obama did, however, play on his junior high team.) In retrospect, Obama has expressed some wariness over the hard-hitting game.
“I’m a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football,” he in 2013. “And I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence.”
* O’Bomber was a “gym rat,” who use to challenge his coaches to play pickup games, former coach Speedy Bailey recalled. Obama’s former teammate Mark Bendix seconded that memory.
“We would be like, ‘Hey let’s go to the beach’,” Bendix said. “And he would be going to the gym to work on his strength and conditioning.”
All grown up now, the president has been known to enjoy a day or two at the beach, but some might consider him a gym rat still. In 2014, one of Obama’s workouts went viral when a personal trainer in Poland uploaded video of the president exercising in a hotel gym.
And obviously, the man formerly known as O’Bomber still has a soft spot for the game he fell in love with as a kid. Basketball has been a recurring theme in his past eight years in office. He’s played HORSE with reporters. He’s shot hoops with the military in Kuwait. The list goes on.
Obama also found time to coach his daughter Sasha’s basketball team and occasionally be a spectator. Here he is getting wowed by LeBron James while cheering on Team USA.
The role basketball will play in Obama’s life after he leaves office later this month remains unclear, although there’s plenty of room to install a hoop in his soon-to-be backyard in the Obama’s new home in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington.
Obama’s also expressed interest in getting into the business side of the game, hoping to one day buy a team.
“I have fantasized about being able to put together a team and how much fun that would be,” he told GQ magazine in 2015. “I think it’d be terrific.”
They could be named the O’Bombers.