Lakers visit White House, meet President Obama
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Lakers came in first to a standing ovation in the East Room of the White House today, all of them wearing suits for their visit to meet the president of the United States, most of them looking excited and nervous.
Then President Obama came in, bounding up to the podium to an ovation that included all the Lakers’ players, all of them with smiles on their faces.
Obama congratulated the Lakers for winning the franchise’s 15th NBA championship, a 4-1 NBA Finals victory in June over the Orlando Magic, which was their fourth in the last decade.
It was clear that Obama, a basketball fan who plays when he gets the chance, was fully aware of what the Lakers accomplished and who all the players were.
“I still get enormous, enormous pleasure from watching great athletes on the court, and nobody exemplifies excellence in basketball better than the Los Angeles Lakers last year,” Obama said.
Kobe Bryant presented Obama with a Lakers’ jersey No.1, and Derek Fisher gave the president an autographed basketball.
It was the second time both Bryant and Fisher had visited the White House after winning an NBA championship. They last came in 2002 after the Lakers won the second of their three consecutive NBA titles.
“I spent time with President Bush as well, but you know, President Obama’s knowledge about the game is a little more extensive,” Bryant said. “President Bush is more of a baseball guy.”
Obama said he was happy to meet Lakers Coach Phil Jackson and pointed out that six of Jackson's NBA-record 10 championships as a coach came with the Chicago Bulls.
Obama began his political career in Chicago.
The president then made a joke at the expense of Magic Johnson, who was in attendance as well. Johnson was on the Lakers’ team that lost to the Bulls in the NBA Finals in 1991.
Obama imitated the famous hanging, up-and-under move Michael Jordan made in which he switched the ball from his right hand to his left for a layup.
“They [the Lakers] won the first game and they were feeling cocky,” the president said as the crowd laughed.
Johnson laughed at the president talking trash to him.
“Yes, I got a kick out of that,” Johnson said. “What can you say when the president of the United States can trash-talk you? Normally I have a good comeback, but this time, I had to let him slide.”
Lamar Odom smiled when told that Obama even quoted his phrase that the Lakers used during their huddles, a phrase that ended in “rings.”
“I wish I had a tape recorder,” Odom said, laughing.
“Don’t worry, they record everything in here,” Lakers trainer Gary Vitti said.
-- Broderick Turner
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, left, stands with President Obama in the East Room of the White House on Monday. Credit: Charles Dharapak / Associated Press