Basketball and the Art of Presidential Politics
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This post, written by Bernie Heidkamp, originally appeared on Pop Politics
Everyone has their refuge. I have always felt, though, that those of us who find it in the game of basketball are a special breed.
Basketball is simultaneously the sport of posturing and the sport of intimacy. It is the most urban, neighborhood-y of sports, requiring limited space and limited supplies -- but it is also the most poetic, nothing being as aesthetically pleasing as basketball players weaving seamlessly together or one of them soaring above them all.
And, among all major sports, it is the most accessible and diverse. People of all backgrounds and genders can see the elegant simplicity of picking up a ball, bouncing it a few times, and throwing it into a hoop. The distance between pick-up players and professionals, of course, is wide (and tall, very tall), but in no other sport can even the lowliest of ordinary players have a true moment of transcendence when they able to hit the same -- really, the identical -- long or crazy shot they just saw the star do.
Yeah, I love basketball.
So if I didn't already have a high and hopeful opinion of Barack Obama, I would now, after reading Jodi Kantor's exploration of how much basketball means to him:
At first, it was a tutorial in race, a way for a kid with a white mother, a Kenyan father and a peripatetic childhood to establish the African-American identity that he longed for. In "Dreams From My Father," Mr. Obama described basketball as a comfort to a boy whose father was mostly absent, and who was one of only a few black youths at his school. "At least on the basketball court I could find a community of sorts," he wrote.
Of course, as his career grew, basketball also became a source of community networking, a place where Obama met allies such as Alexi Giannoulias -- now Illinois state treasurer -- and kept in touch with other Chicago-area political luminaries like Arne Duncan, the head of the Chicago public school system. Unlike golf and other traditional networking venues, though, the basketball court created a more "democratic" space:
Though some of these men could afford to build courts at their own homes, they pride themselves on the democratic nature of basketball, on showing up at South Side parks and playing with whoever is around. At the University of Chicago court where he and Mr. Obama used to play, "You might have someone from the street and a potential Nobel Prize winner on the same team," Mr. Duncan said. "It's a great equalizer."
It is a theme that runs throughout Mr. Obama's basketball career: a desire to be perceived as a regular guy despite great advantage and success. As a teenager, he slipped away from his tony school to university courts populated by "gym rats and has-beens" who taught him "that respect came from what you did and not who your daddy was," Mr. Obama wrote.
Unfortunately, Obama's present schedule keeps him away from his favorite game -- but that's nothing that a hoop on the South Lawn wouldn't solve.