NBA: Obama courts King James on Chicago’s behalf
By Peter Nicholas
Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Not that he wants to "meddle" or anything.
But President Obama, an unabashed partisan when it comes to sports, is making the case that basketball superstar LeBron James belongs with his favorite NBA team, the Chicago Bulls.
Obama made his plea at a moment when James, who becomes a free agent July 1, is deciding whether to jump to another team or remain with the Cleveland Cavaliers after they were knocked out of the playoffs in the second round.
In an interview with broadcaster Marv Albert, the president said James would mesh well with Bulls players. Albert met with Obama on the converted White House basketball court on Friday. Albert said he was impressed with the court, which features glass backboards. At the base of one of the stanchions is the White House logo, Albert said in a telephone interview.
The TNT interview will be shown Tuesday before Game 4 of the Phoenix Suns- Los Angeles Lakers series.
"Like I said, I don't want to meddle," Obama said in the interview. "I will say this: ( Derrick) Rose, ( Joakim) Noah, it's a pretty good core. You could see LeBron fitting in pretty well."
Obama owns a house on Chicago's South Side and still roots for the Bulls.
Albert said he asked the White House for the interview and got an immediate OK. The pair also talked about more serious topics, including the strict new Arizona anti-illegal immigration law. Albert asked Obama what he would do if he were NBA commissioner for a day.
Lower ticket prices, Obama replied.
"I asked him how often do you watch," Albert said. "He said he watches when the kids go to sleep and Michelle goes to sleep. He goes into the study and puts on the games and reads."
"So we're basically background for you?" Albert said to the president. At that, Obama laughed, Albert said.
A presidential nudge won't sit well with Cleveland. Obama carried Ohio in the 2008 campaign and has made repeated trips to the Buckeye state since taking office.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, in an interview Monday, had a playful suggestion of his own: "I think the White House would look good in Cleveland. He (Obama) would fit well in Cleveland. It would be nice."
Obama isn't a casual sports fan — or a neutral spectator. When he threw out the first pitch at the Nationals baseball game in April, he stuck a White Sox cap on his head. Boos poured from the hometown crowd.
But basketball is his best game and he seems to have a special reverence for King James.
In 2004, before delivering the Democratic presidential convention speech that vaulted him to national prominence, he told a reporter: "I'm LeBron, baby."
After taking office, Obama converted the White House tennis court into a basketball court, a move that made sense given all the pickup games he played during the campaign. He said he wanted to invite James to shoot rounds with him. So far, he has had to settle for out-of-shape congressmen, White House staff and Cabinet secretaries.
But there are a couple of real athletes in the group. His personal aide, Reggie Love, played basketball at Duke University, and his Education secretary, Arne Duncan, played professional basketball in Australia.