Can't make this stuff up: Bowling Lobby concerned over Obama's plans for BBall court.
The Presidential Pickup Game
With the naming of 'the best basketball-playing cabinet in American history,' hoops madness is hitting Washington. But don't count out the bowling lobby.
By AMY CHOZICK
A rendering of the bowling industry's proposed refurbishing of the White House lane.
Sharp elbows are already flying in the Obama camp. With Barack Obama the first avid basketball player to be elected president, political appointees, college coaches and NBA officials are all angling to get in on the game.
Mr. Obama -- whose jump shot earned him the nickname Barry O'Bomber at Hawaii's Punahou School -- has hired a team of cabinet members and aides with serious basketball backgrounds. Many of them are planning for regular court time with the president, according to Mr. Obama's transition press team.
Theodore Roosevelt rides a horse and holds a rifle during a 1908 hunting holiday in Colorado. See the slideshow for sports favored by past commanders in chief.
"I think we are putting together the best basketball-playing cabinet in American history," the president-elect said at a news conference earlier this week.
During the campaign, Mr. Obama said he planned to replace the White House bowling alley -- installed by Richard Nixon in 1969 -- with an indoor basketball court. (There is a tiny outdoor court at the White House adjacent to the tennis court on the southwest side.) National Basketball Association officials have reached out to members of the transition team to offer their services in installing a regulation court at the White House.
If "there is an upgrading of the basketball facilities at the White House, you can be assured that the NBA and the players will be there," says NBA Commissioner David Stern.
Not everyone is excited about basketball's arrival as the semiofficial sport of the White House. The bowling lobby is concerned that talk of removing the White House lane -- which was built under the north driveway -- will have a negative impact on their sport. In an effort to change the president's mind, top bowling associations have offered to refurbish the lane with a state-of-the-art scoring system, high-tech bowling balls designed to grip the lane and a digital surround-sound system.
"It would be a sad, sad day" if Mr. Obama scrapped the bowling lane, says Jim Sturm, president of the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America and owner of two bowling centers in Charleston, W.Va. "I think his political analysts ought to take a long look at removing [it]. It could have a long-term impact on his political prospects."
There are signs of hope for the bowling lobby's full-court press: In a November interview with ABC's Barbara Walters, Mr. Obama tempered his earlier remarks and said he might leave the bowling alley alone.
Whether bowling stays or goes, it is clearly basketball's moment. Basketball fans outside the president-elect's inner circle are clamoring for the chance to join a White House game. "The big buzz is pickup," says Gil Jackson, head basketball coach at Howard University. "People are already posturing as to how they'll get in on those games. Myself included."
Requests for pickup games are expected to go through White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel's office. Mr. Emanuel, or someone on his staff, would screen the requests, with Mr. Obama getting the chance to assemble his own weekly games.
Leon Panetta, former White House chief-of-staff to Bill Clinton, says he received phone calls and letters every day requesting a game of golf with the president. He would make a list of everyone vying for time and let Mr. Clinton make the final decision. There were many rejections. "With the president, you've always got an easy excuse to say no," Mr. Panetta says. "I'd just say he doesn't have time."
[Barack Obama, 1977 basketball team] Associated Press
Barack Obama, left in middle row, and the 1977 Punahou School junior varsity basketball team.
Mr. Obama typically spends some time on the basketball court ahead of big events, including elections. He is expected to play a game of three-on-three with his Hyde Park friends before delivering his Inaugural Address Jan. 20.
Abe Pollin, owner of the NBA's Washington Wizards, has extended an open invitation to Mr. Obama to sit in on team practices, attend Wizards games in the owner's box and play pickup ball at the Verizon Center with Mr. Obama's circle of regulars or with team members. "Our players would love to shoot around a little bit with him," says Wizards spokesman Matt Williams.
At the YMCA on Rhode Island Avenue, just blocks from the White House, players in the locker room are already joking that Mr. Obama will have to adjust to Washington's in-your-face style of defense and adhere to the gym's one-towel policy, says YMCA representative Carol Gregory. "We've got a court all ready for him," she says.
Many presidents have found it politically expedient to bring along a favored sport to the White House. Teddy Roosevelt boxed and practiced jujitsu. Before the 1908 election, he gave his heavy-set successor, William Howard Taft, some words of advice, according to presidential historian Douglas Brinkley: "Photographs on horseback, yes. Tennis, no. And golf is fatal."
John F. Kennedy favored touch football. George H.W. Bush hosted high-powered tennis matches. George W. Bush has gone mountain biking with power brokers, including Gen. David Petraeus and Jim Zorn, coach of the Washington Redskins. President Bush calls his regular group "Peloton One," White House press secretary Scott Stanzel says.
Mr. Nixon embraced bowling as a means of connecting with working-class voters. "He wasn't a great athlete but this is something he could do in a Rotary Club kind of way," says Nixon historian David Greenberg.
Bowling isn't one of Mr. Obama's strengths, however. On an outing before the Pennsylvania primary, he bowled a 37 with repeated gutter balls.
[Susan Rice on the National Cathedral School team.] National Cathedral School
Susan Rice on the National Cathedral School team.
While basketball may not have helped the chances of several of Mr. Obama's recent White House picks, it probably didn't hurt. Arne Duncan, the 6-foot-5 chief of Chicago schools whom Mr. Obama has named his secretary of education, played regularly with Mr. Obama. Mr. Duncan was co-captain of Harvard University's basketball team and later played professionally in Australia. Retired Gen. James Jones, the six-foot-four nominee for national security advisor, was a star forward for Georgetown University in the 1960s; Susan Rice, nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was a point guard for the National Cathedral School in Washington.
Vice President-elect Joseph Biden was manager of the freshman basketball team at Archmere Academy in Claymont, Del.; classmates say his preferred game is football.
Eric Holder, the attorney general nominee, played on the freshman team at Columbia University and was co-captain of the team at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. He led the Stuyvesant Peglegs to a season of two wins and 12 losses. "In a school of short academic nerds, he was a tall academic nerd," says Paul Grayson, a New York accountant who played on the team with Mr. Holder.
[Reggie Love] Getty Images
Reggie Love, Mr. Obama's campaign 'body man.'
Mr. Obama's regular basketball buddies include Reggie Love, the candidate's "body man" from the campaign trail who played basketball at Duke University in 2001, the year the Blue Devils won the NCAA championship. There's also Marvin Nicholson, the campaign's national trip director; Martin Nesbitt, treasurer of the Obama campaign; Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and physician Eric Whitaker, one of Mr. Obama's closest friends. Among those who aren't relocating to Washington to work in the administration, many say they'll hop on a plane to continue their regular three-on-three games.
John Rogers, a Chicago businessman and co-chairman of the Presidential Inauguration Committee, is another one of Mr. Obama's regulars; he played basketball at Princeton University with Michelle Obama's brother, Craig Robinson, one of the highest scorers in Princeton basketball history and now the head men's basketball coach at Oregon State University in Corvallis.
Mr. Rogers was one of those who shot hoops with Mr. Obama on Election Day in Chicago. No one gave the future president-elect any slack, he recalls. "We treat him like any other player and we'll do the same when he's president. He's tough," Mr. Rogers says. "And I was always impressed with Barack because he was Craig's brother-in-law."