WASHINGTON, D.C. -– President Barack Obama strode into a room thick with humanity, a broad bank of cameras dominating the back and at least a score of photographers, mini-ladders in tow, ringing the side reserved for standing-room only observers.
This was not just any room, but the East Room of the White House -- a room with as much global history as classic elegance.
And on this cool, gray Thursday in the nation’s capital, the NBA champion Warriors were the guests of honor as the president extolled their virtues in the official ceremony that awaits every champion in American professional sports.
With a number of Bay Area politicians in attendance –- including Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, East Bay Congresswoman Barbara Lee, former Speaker of the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Ca.) -- Obama referred to the collection of pols as proof that celebrating the Warriors is a “bipartisan affair.”
There is no question, though, that somewhere not so deep inside his soul, the president would have preferred to be hosting his beloved Chicago Bulls, whose NBA-record 72 wins is within the Warriors' sights.
“It’s rare to be in the presence of guys from the greatest team in NBA history,” Obama said, before pausing to identify Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who was a member of the record-setting 1995-96 Bulls.
Obama peppered his remarks with humor directed in a variety of directions, recalling the days when the Warriors were among the worst teams in the NBA and pointing out Stephen Curry’s 51-point performance against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday amounted to him “clowning” his hometown team. The president even stopped to mimic the on-court spin dance Curry showed off during the game.
Yes, the most powerful man in the free world actually stopped to bust a move –- in public.
With the entire Warriors team and staff –- including former players David Lee and Justin Holiday –- standing behind him, the president joked that he had hoped Stephen Curry’s telegenic preschool-age daughter, Riley, would be on hand to provide “media training.”
He also poked fun at Klay Thompson’s “free spirit” reputation and singled out assistant coach Luke Walton for his work as interim head coach while Kerr was on leave of absence recovering from complications in the wake of back surgery. The Warriors were 39-4 under Walton, though those fabulous numbers go on the record of Kerr’s as a result of his being under contract.
“You accomplished big things. You racked up a great record. And you don’t get enough credit,” Obama said before pausing as the room chuckled in anticipation of the punch line.
“I can’t imagine how that feels,” the president added.
Obama also showered the Warriors with praise, pointing out the sacrifice made by Andre Iguodala, who accepted a role off the bench after being a starter the previous season. The president described All-Star forward Draymond Green as an example of “heart over height, every night,” and referred to the team’s ultra-successful small lineup, with the 6-foot-7 Green at center, as the “nuclear lineup.”
And when Kerr presented the president with a Warriors jersey -- No. 44, representative of the 44th president -- near the end of the ceremony, Obama joked that had this been the Lakers he could not have accepted No. 44, which was worn by Lakers legend and Warriors board member Jerry West and is retired in Los Angeles.
Kerr informed the president that Warriors general manager Bob Myers had taken care to point out that Obama, in the final year of his second term, will be a “free agent” next year.
“Consider this,” Kerr said of the jersey, “a symbol of the offer that’s coming.”
Obama, who will be 55 when his term ends next January, responded by raising his hands into a jump-shooting position and stating that he’d be ready to play.