The Top 5 Basketball Moments Of The U.S. Presidency

07.04.12 5 years ago
Barack Obama

Buckets Obama

The first U.S. President didn’t even want the job in the first place. George Washington was the original distributor, even if he assumed the presidency 102 years before the game was invented. Since its birth though, not only have the presidents wanted the top job but a few also have wanted the ball. Today, Independence Day, there’s more than enough stuff to get worked up about patriotism over. But what about hoops, the born-in-the-USA game that’s become one of America’s best exports? Here’s a look at the top five presidents who believed in roundball diplomacy and their best basketball moments.


Ford played football at Michigan, so he was no athletic slouch. Well before he stepped into the Oval Office — and 67 years before Michigan State played North Carolina on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier last November — Ford balled on the deck of the U.S.S. Monterey in 1944. He’s the shirtless guy contesting the shot.

Gerald Ford

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Bush wasn’t one of the game’s most visible practitioners, but he did champion the sport. Known for an inability to go left, “W” showed up at the U.S. women vs. Czech Republic game in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing to cheer on the Americans. He left after the third quarter, but it wasn’t the first time he’d shown he was a women’s hoops fan. He hosted Baylor’s 2005 NCAA title team like a president does with every title-winning NCAA team, and he repaid the favor by showing up to a 2009 game in Waco, which is about 25 miles from his ranch in Crawford.

When he was in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he got up a few shots, too.

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Bush is also infamous for being the one person LeBron James wanted to dunk on more than anyone in 2009.

If it doesn’t have to be a basketball player, George W. Bush. I would dunk on his ass, break the rim, and shatter the glass.

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He attended the 1994 Arkansas-Duke NCAA title game as president, watching two years after he went from the Arkansas governor’s mansion to the White House. Clinton also went to the Midwest Regional that season and the sheer possibility of a second POTUS visit to the NCAA Tournament had Dick Vitale even more excited than usual in the video below. The trailer, for ESPN’s “40 Minutes of Hell” documentary, follows Vitale with interviews of Clinton talking about following the Razorbacks to the program’s only title.

Vitale had reason to be excited. From this 1994 Los Angeles Times story on the First Fan:

Clinton is believed to be the only President to attend a basketball game while in office, and the record he has set will be hard to beat. Saturday’s game was the third he attended this season, and he plans to return to Charlotte on Monday night to see the Razorbacks play in the championship.

He did, of course, attend, and went to the Razorbacks’ locker room afterward. Not that his hoops knowledge was limited to college — Clinton used (or at least his speechwriter included) Michael Jordan‘s return from baseball as a little levity in a jobs speech in 1995.

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Obama’s ties to hoops are the most well-known of any basketball-playing president because he is the best-known basketball president. He scrimmaged against North Carolina in 2008, nearly getting a layup on Tyler Hansbrough, and one of his aides was Reggie Love, the ex-Duke national champion forward who organized runs during his time serving in the White House. A ticket to a presidential run is one of the biggest treats in the Beltway. A shooting guard at Hawaii’s Punahou High who wore No. 23, he was nicknamed “Barry O’bomber,” which might be one of the best presidential nicknames, regardless of sports context.

When he lived in Chicago, Obama got in games with future brother-in-law (and Oregon State coach) Craig Robinson on Hayes and South Lake Shore Drive. It’s a good chance the basketball court next to the swimming pool at the White House has never been used more by a sitting chief. He is simply, in the view of this “mixtape,” America’s point guard.

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Some would have you think NBA Commissioner David Stern pulls strings like the most powerful man in America to get his way. The NBA Commissioner who preceded Stern from 1975-84, however, actually knew those people. In fact, he helped them get there during his Forrest Gump life. O’Brien was seemingly everywhere in American history in the 20th century, from seeing the Larry Bird and Magic Johnson Era breathe life into the NBA he governed, to leading John F. Kennedy’s 1952 Senate seat win. That win set up Kennedy’s run to the presidency, which O’Brien led as campaign manager. O’Brien was a special assistant to JFK who was five cars behind him when he was assassinated. O’Brien — born in Springfield, Mass., of course — helped pick out the former president’s coffin. O’Brien knew people.

The office that was burglarized during Watergate? It belonged to O’Brien, who was twice chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

O’Brien’s assist to the presidency for JFK does affect history in two, Butterfly Effect ways. If O’Brien hadn’t helped get him elected, would JFK be alive today? And how would the eventual president have handled the Cuban Missile Crisis? See, Larry O’Brien didn’t just revitalize the NBA, he set in motion the election of a president who kept America from going to nuclear war, possibly saving the league as we know it. He wasn’t the man taking the Oath of Office, sure, but he also wasn’t suiting up on the hardwood either and yet he was an ingenious actor in both politics’ and basketball’s fate. And you thought he was just the name on the NBA’s title trophy.

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