Lakers part of all the president's men during White House visit
President Barack Obama didn't challenge the Lakers to a game of P-I-G, a competition he apparently won last year against the Connecticut women's basketball team. But the hoops aficionado still showed signs that the Lakers' White House visit commemorating their 2009 NBA championship went beyond just a customary photo op.
"The only thing that is better than watching basketball is playing basketball," Obama said. "But I'm 48 and soon to be 49, and it's a little harder these days to move around on the court, especially when you're playing against kids who are half your age."
That didn't stop the Lakers from giving him an autographed basketball and a Lakers' jersey with Obama's name and the No. 1 adorned on the back. Although championship teams typically give that numbered jersey to the President during White House visits, I couldn't help but wonder if that was also a trade offer for Lakers guard Jordan Farmar, who currently wears No. 1. Hey, Obama has until Feb. 18 to decide before the trade deadline ends.
The initial reports suggest that the Lakers appreciated Obama's knowledge of the team. After calling Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, the "Zen master," Obama credited Jackson for winning 10 championships, including the 1991 NBA Finals where the Chicago Bulls defeated the Lakers, 4-1. Obama, a Chicago native, wasn't shy about taking a jab at former Lakers great Magic Johnson, who was in attendance and played in that Finals loss.
"You remember that Magic," Obama said. "You know, they won the first game and they were feeling cocky. And [John] Paxson was hitting all those shots."
"That's why I like him, because he's real and he's in tune with what's going on, not just here but around the world," Johnson told KCAL-9 during its noon telecast. "It makes him a president that you can love to have a Coke and a smile with."
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant certainly smiled when he shared with reporters his exchange with Obama. Though Bryant has had a six-week avulsion fracture to his right index finger, he didn't shy away from shaking hands with Obama. The resident, Bryant says, was a bit more concerned.
"We shook each other's hands and he immediately pulled his hand back to make sure he wasn't squeezing the finger too tight," Bryant told reporters.
There were other exchanges Obama had with other Lakers players. In his speech, he thanked Lakers guard Derek Fisher, the president of the NBA Players Assn., for the league's involvement with Haiti relief efforts. He credited the Haiti relief donations Lakers forward Pau Gasol and Farmar made just last week. He wished Lakers guard Shannon Brown luck in the NBA dunk contest. And he shot down a proposal presented by Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic, who told KCAl-9's John Ireland that he challenged Obama to a game of one-on-one, the stakes being American citizenship for the Slovenian native.
Many members of the Lakers organization supported Obama during his campaign, including Johnson, Jackson, Fisher, Farmar and Ron Artest, who wasn't part of the ceremony because of reported flu-like symptoms. But this visit served as a good break in between a grinding trip that's yielded two road losses in the past three contests. Jackson said part of the reason had to do with Obama's love of the game.
"President Obama is really familiar with basketball and knows most of the players by their names," Jackson told reporters. "Some of the other presidents didn't. They weren't basketball fans."
-- Mark Medina
Photo: The Lakers visited the White House with President Obama honoring the team's 2009 championship. Credit: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg News.