My Sportsman: Barack Obama
Though he later conceded in his memoir
The game reinforced those precepts throughout Obama's life, from his lone season on the varsity at Punahou High School (where he bridled at not being good enough to start for a state-championship team); to the night that he joined some Harvard Law School buddies to play against inmates at a Massachusetts prison; to the day his girlfriend,
And in 2008 Obama put those rules of the asphalt to the ultimate test, betting his career on the belief that American voters would judge him not on the color of his skin but on whether he had the skills and the toughness they wanted in a president. When he hit the electoral game point on Nov. 4, he made history by winning the right to become America's first-ever Hoopster-in-Chief. For that, Barack Hussein Obama earns my nomination Sportsman of the Year.
Obama's genuine passion for the game was on display throughout the campaign. On Jan. 3, the day of the Iowa caucuses, he played pickup hoops to help him relax. He won the caucuses by 7-percentage points that night, and when he realized later that he did not play on the days of the New Hampshire primary and Nevada caucuses -- both of which he lost -- he decreed that he would henceforth hoop it up every election day. He staged three-on-three tournaments in New Hampshire and Indiana as part of a voter-registration effort. In July he famously sank a three-pointer on his first try while visiting American troops in Kuwait. When reporters asked him in late August if he had been rattled by the verbal zingers uttered at his expense by Alaska Gov.
In allowing himself to be filmed so often while playing hoops, Obama was taking a considerable political risk. After all, if he did something goofy, it could have produced one of those memorable photo-ops gone bad. (Think
Obama often promised that if he became president he would have a basketball court built inside the White House. But there probably isn't enough room in the executive mansion for a full-sized court, and the outdoor court on the South Lawn has just one rim. So I've got some advice for the Hoopster-elect: Once in a while, when you really need some stress relief, grab your sneakers, hop into your limo, and show up unannounced at the courts outside the Watts Branch Recreation Center on Bank Street, or at the "Candy Cane" court in Rock Creek Park, or even the Barry Farms housing projects in southeast D.C., the District's answer to Harlem's Rucker Park. The locals will be thrilled, but don't expect that to count for much when it comes time to choose up sides. You may be the President of the United States, but if you don't have game, you won't be picked.