You should read Michael Lewis’ profile of president Barack Obama in the current issue of Vanity Fair. Not for political reasons — what you think of Obama’s first term before you start the article is what you will think after — but for insights into the decisions that any president has to make and challenges that face anyone in that office. It’s a fascinating profile.
But as a basketball fan, you also should soak up the parts about Obama’s pickup basketball games.
Obama’s pickup games are well known (plenty of people try to find their way in), but Lewis provides one of the more in depth looks at the game where the president gets his workout in — and where for a little while he kind of stops being president (as much as that can happen to anyone).
A dozen players were warming up. I recognized Arne Duncan, the former captain of the Harvard basketball team and current secretary of education. Apart from him and a couple of disturbingly large and athletic guys in their 40s, everyone appeared to be roughly 28 years old, roughly six and a half feet tall, and the possessor of a 30-inch vertical leap. It was not a normal pickup basketball game; it was a group of serious basketball players who come together three or four times each week. Obama joins when he can. “How many of you played in college?” I asked the only player even close to my height. “All of us,” he replied cheerfully and said he’d played point guard at Florida State. “Most everyone played pro too—except for the president.” Not in the N.B.A., he added, but in Europe and Asia…
Obama was 20 or more years older than most of them, and probably not as physically gifted, though it was hard to say because of the age differences. No one held back, no one deferred. Guys on his team dribbled past him and ignored the fact he was wide open. When he drives through the streets, crowds part, but when he drives to the basket large, hostile men slide over to cut him off. It’s revealing that he would seek out a game like this but even more that others would give it to him: no one watching would have been able to guess which guy was president. As a player on the other team, who must have outweighed Obama by a hundred pounds, backed the president of the United States down and knocked the crap out of him, all for the sake of a single layup, I leaned over to the former Florida State point guard.
“No one seems to be taking it easy on him,” I said.
“If you take it easy on him, you’re not invited back,” he explained.
For most of us, there comes a time when we realize we need to find a less athletic pickup game. I clearly remember my moment of epiphany — I was supposed to guard a guy about my height but much younger. And as he and his buddy are talking at one point during a break he talks about his scholarship to play receiver at San Deigo State in the fall. Pretty soon on the court he blew past me like I was standing still — or like I was Derek Fisher — and threw down a one-handed dunk that was very impressive if I was not the guy supposed to prevent it.
Credit Obama for not giving in to that moment and finding a way to stay relevent in the game.
That’s a long cut from Lewis’ piece, but it’s a small slice of the long and fantastic article. One you should read for the insights into the job and the man’s take on it.
But also for the hoops. Because that is one fun game.