First Hoopster can choose from lots of capital courts

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 4, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Now that he's living in the White House, where will President Barack Obama play pickup basketball?

Anywhere he wants. But who knew he'd have so many choices?

- Ken Salazar, Obama's interior secretary, wants the president to use the newly refurbished basement court in his department's block-square headquarters. President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved its construction in 1938 on the grounds that the full-size 50- by 94-foot court could, in a capital emergency, be converted into a hospital ward with a very high ceiling.

- The National Basketball Association would build Obama a court on the White House grounds in a heartbeat. "We've talked to people in his administration, and said we'd help in any way we can," NBA spokesman Tim Frank said, "but that's as far as it's gone." In the meantime, the outdoor White House tennis court is being eyed as a possible basketball court.

- Abe Pollin, the owner of the NBA Washington Wizards, has offered Obama the use of his team's home court, the Verizon Center, nine blocks east of the White House. Obama's pickup games probably would fill more of the center's 20,000 seats than the Wizards do, who are vying this season only to be the worst of the NBA's 30 teams.

- Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains, already has a court. It's used mainly by the Marines and Navy Seabees assigned there to guard and serve presidents. In between, they draw lots of perimeter security duty and play lots of basketball. Obama hasn't seen the Camp David court yet.

- Members of the House of Representatives and their guests can play on their own court in the sprawling Rayburn House Office Building. Senators don't have a court, but their spa and fitness center is cushier.

- Atop the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, sits an even higher court, although its dimensions are just 39 by 79 feet. Justice Byron White, who died in 2002 at age 84, was the last justice to spend much time on it. A biographer reported that he had infamously sharp elbows.

- If the Secret Service casts the deciding vote, Obama will end up at the Army's Fort Myer Recreation Center in suburban Virginia on the western margin of Arlington Cemetery. It's the easiest court to secure, and it's just 2.9 miles from the White House.

The smart money's on Fort Myer.

All but Interior's court are free to federal employees. At Interior, the pay-to-play fee comes to $650 a year, roughly on par with the capital's YMCA.

Two realities will bedevil Obama's court appearances almost anywhere he plays, however.

One is traffic. Early in his presidency, George H.W. Bush, who liked to run, thought he'd zip over to Fort McNair, two miles away, to use its track. His two-block entourage so snarled traffic that the elder Bush used a White House treadmill for the rest of his term.

Attorney General Eric Holder, a starter at New York City's Stuyvesant High School, better known for brains than basketball, spoke to the other reality in his Senate confirmation hearing: the possibility that a president won't be guarded all that closely on court.

When Holder was asked whether he'd "do everything in his power to defeat" Obama, he confessed: "I don't think I could beat him, and I don't think it would be a wise thing to do."

Holder has the wrong idea, responded former NBA player Tom McMillen, who represented eastern Maryland in the House of Representatives for three terms.

"Basketball is a status-blind sport, particularly pickup basketball," he said.

"Once you get on the court, you play the same way whether you're playing the president or a guy on the street."

ON THE WEB

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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