President Barack Obama welcomed the National Basketball Association 2014 champion San Antonio Spurs to the White House on Monday, giving the hoops-loving president a break from an otherwise intense day.
Obama entered the crowded East Room to raucous applause and shouts of “Go Spurs, Go!” But he quickly told the San Antonio home crowd where his allegiances were.
“Now, look, I admit it, I’m a Bulls fan,” he said. “It’s never easy celebrating a non-Bulls team in the White House. That’s all I’ve been able to do. So far.”
The president’s home town Chicago Bulls have not won the championship during his presidency. The Spurs have now won five NBA titles _ 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014.
“But even I have to admit that the Spurs are hard to dislike,” he said. “They’re old...So it makes me feel good to see that folks in advancing years can succeed in a young man’s sport.”
He pointed out Spurs’ power forward Tim Duncan, 38, for what he said looked like gray hair.
Duncan has played for the Spurs since 1997 and Obama said he has gotten championship rings in three different decades.
Obama complimented the team for being diverse, the “U.N. of basketball teams,” with a beautiful style of play and a commitment to charitable work in the San Antonio community. He also gave them a shout-out for hiring Becky Hammon, the NBA’s first female assistant coach.
“And as somebody who has got two daughters, one of who is a ‘baller,’ it makes me feel good when excellence is recognized regardless of gender,” Obama said.
He had a little fun with the players, too.
“If you guys need any tips on winning back-to-back, you know where to find me,” said Obama, who won re-election in 2012.
As the team prepared to give Obama some “stuff” – a Spurs jersey labeled “POTUS” (president of the United States) with the number “1” and a basketball signed by the team – he headed for the large gold NBA trophy on a table and asked, “Do I get to keep this, too?”
It was a busy day for the president who had to deal with strong criticism from the media and the public for not attending or sending a high-ranking official to the massive march in Paris supporting free speech after the killings at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a kosher market. The White House later apologized.
The room had a strong contingent of Texans, including Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, a former San Antonio mayor; and his twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, who sat with a number of lawmakers from both parties. Texas Republican Reps. Joe Barton, Michael Burgess, Lamar Smith and Will Hurd, and Lone Star State Democratic Reps. Al Green, Henry Cuellar, Sheila Jackson Lee and Lloyd Doggett put partisanship aside to bask in the Spurs’ moment.
Barton, who posed in front of the NBA trophy as everyone was seated waiting for the president to arrive, said afterward, “If it can’t be the Mavs, it’s great it’s the Spurs,” referring to the Dallas Mavericks.
“It’s great for Texas,” said Green, adding, “the president offered some sage advice on back to back wins.”
“We’re all Texans,” said Burgess. “We’re here to support the Spurs.”