Obama team ready for full-court press

By A. James Memmott

December 18, 2008 at 11:30am

As the new presidential administration is becoming increasingly loaded with good basketball players, Barack Obama has stressed that hardcourt skills are not a requirement for service.

“I did not pick Arne because he’s one of the best basketball players I know,” Obama said Tuesday in announcing the selection of Arne Duncan as the new secretary of education.

That denial out of the way, Obama, who played on a Hawaiian state championship team in high school, went on to say that “we are putting together the best basketball-playing cabinet in American history.”

As Mark Memmott notes in USA Today, it is fair to say that the Obama and his appointees got game. (Full disclosure: Memmott is this writer’s brother.)

Obama was a reserve on the Punahou High School team that won a state championship in Hawaii in 1979. He didn’t play in college, but he continues to take part in pick-up games.

A You Tube video from April shows then-candidate Obama in a three-on-three game at an Indiana high school.

A left-handed point guard, the 6-foot-2 Obama makes several good moves to the basket, all of which are enthusiastically celebrated by announcer Herbie Ziskend of the Obama staff. No ball hog, Obama also gets off some good passes.

Obama’s talents aside, Duncan, currently the CEO of the Chicago public schools, might be the star of the cabinet team.

A co-captain of the 1986-1987 Harvard basketball team, the 6-foot-5 Duncan went on to play two seasons for the Eastside Spectres in Australia’s National Basketball League, averaging 26 points per game, according to league records.

The rest of Obama’s starting five could include:

  • James L. Jones Jr., a retired Marine General, chosen to be national security adviser. He played forward for Georgetown University, graduating in 1966.
  • Susan Rice, a former point guard at National Cathedral School in Washington who is slated to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
  • Eric H. Holder Jr., the nominee for attorney general, who co-captained a losing team at academically prestigious Stuyvesant High School in New York City in the late 1960s.

Should any of these players tire, Obama could bring in Reggie Love, his 6-foot-5 personal aide. Love played football at Duke University and was a reserve on the 2001 NCAA championship basketball team.

Love offered this analysis of his boss’ game to The New York Times: “He’s quick and he’s strong. A lot of people still don’t know that he’s left-handed, so he can get to the basket and get his shot off, even though he’s not the most explosive or tallest player on the court.”

Timothy Geithner, the pick for Treasury secretary, also might have a spot with the Obama five, as he’s said to be a pick-up game regular.

Reaching beyond his appointees and staff, Obama could suit up fundraiser John W. Rogers Jr., the 1979-80 Princeton co-captain and head of Ariel Capital Management.

Martin Nesbitt, another fundraiser, is also a regular in Obama’s pick-up games.

Obama’s court closer could be Craig Robinson, his brother-in-law. The coach of the Oregon State University men’s basketball team, Robinson starred in basketball at Princeton University.

Michelle Robinson Obama noted at the Democratic Convention this summer, that when Barack Obama was wooing her, Craig Robinson vetted the young lawyer on the basketball court.

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