By Michael A. Memoli
1:30 PM PST, March 1, 2012
President Obama says he had "Linsanity" before Linsanity was cool.
"I knew about Jeremy before you did, or everybody else did," Obama said in an interview with ESPN's Bill Simmons for his new site, Grantland. "I've been on the Jeremy Lin bandwagon for a while."
The president explained that his Education secretary, Arne Duncan, was captain of Harvard's basketball team and would rave about his play.
"It's a great story, and what's interesting is the fact that somehow folks were missing it in practice," he said. "You got to assume that during scrimmages he was running that pick-and-roll pretty well."
Now let's rewind a bit. The president did an interview with Bill "The Sports Guy" Simmons?
Yes, turns out he did. Chalk it up to the advantage of incumbency. While his Republican rivals are out tearing one another to pieces, and focusing on more conservative media outlets and Fox News, the president is expanding his reach to American voters in just such venues.
In this case, it's clear that the president is quite the sports geek.
Obama told Simmons he has the NBA League Pass on his iPad to watch late NBA games after his wife and daughters have gone to sleep, in between reading briefing memos.
He offered a rosy assessment of his hometown team's chances this year, saying the Chicago Bulls "have a great chance" to compete for a championship.
He's been thinking for five years about hosting an NBA champion Bulls team at the White House, and expects to see them in what he hopes will be a second term. "It hasn't happened yet, but it will happen," he said. "I've got another five years here, and somewhere along the line my Bulls are going to come through."
He even talked about playing a game of HORSE with former UConn standout Maya Moore. The president won.
"Maya is annoyed that I point out that I beat her. She was wearing high heels and a skirt at the time, so I'm not sure if that counts."
Simmons also talked with Obama about his golf game, his hope for a college football playoff, and throwing out ceremonial first pitches at baseball games, something he said is "about the most stressful thing" he does.
Here are some more highlights of the interview.
On the Bulls' chances: "Deng seems more confident. Boozer is in better shape. Derrick Rose has matured. I'm a little worried about making sure that they give him enough rest with the back spasms that he had. But the Bulls, I think, are right in there. I think they've got a great chance. The Heat are playing better than anybody right now. And when those folks get going on a fast break, it's over."
On the NBA lockout: "My whole theory — it's the same way with the NFL lockout. If you've got billionaires on one side and millionaires on another, you guys can figure out how to divide some money up. And ultimately they did. And it was the right thing to do. And what's been encouraging is to see how fast the sport has bounced back. And with Jeremy Lin and the Heat and all the unbelievable young players that are out here right now, I think this sport is as popular as it's ever been."
On whether people hold back when playing basketball with him: "No, because I'm always getting knocked around. I don't know what people are talking about. Reggie Love, my former aide who played at Duke and he's now getting his MBA, he answered anybody who said that people took it easy on me when they played with me. He said, nobody takes it easy on Obama because if he beats them, they won't hear the end of it. And it's true."
On his golf game: "I am very proud of the fact I do not cheat when I'm playing golf. Anybody who plays with me, they'll say I count my strokes. I count my strokes. I don't -- I'm not getting five-foot gimme putts."
On a college football playoff: "I'd rather see it eight teams, but four is a good place to start. I think that gets us on the right trend. Nothing is more frustrating than at the end of the season, nobody knows who won. And what, there is some poll? Coaches make a decision? Nobody knows what that means. Because part of what makes sports great, part of what makes March Madness great, the NFL playoffs great, is every once in a while something happens during the playoffs that shows the character of a team."
On throwing out a baseball first pitch: "It is about the most stressful thing. ... You've got to wear this bulky vest, and what happens is, they just hand you the ball. They say, 'Here,' and you walk up. If you had three tries, you'd be fine. You'd throw a fast strike somewhere in there. But if it's that first ball, each time I go up there my thinking is, All right, I'm just going to blaze this thing in. And then I'm thinking, Man, if I throw a grounder that's going to be a problem. So then I end up kind of lofting it up a little bit."
On his pick for Michael Jordan as greatest NBA player: "You've never had a combination of talent and fierce will to win and longevity and rising to the occasion. I haven't seen it. You've got guys who are comparable in terms of talent. I mean, I think LeBron [James] is as talented as Michael is. I think you've got guys like [Larry] Bird who had that — Bird or Magic [Johnson] who had that same will to win. But combining that package, and then just always being there at the moment, very rarely not — hitting that shot like Utah right at the end, right?"
On advice for Blake Griffin he gave Chris Paul recently: "I said, man, Blake Griffin is unbelievable, and you guys seem to be really clicking. I said, the only thing is you got to tell Blake to just take that 12-, 15-footer when he gets it because he's got a good stroke, but he always looks like he's hesitating a little bit because he wants to go inside. And if he starts getting that shot like Karl Malone, he'll be unstoppable. I will point out that I think he's been taking more outside jumpers. That's good. He's got to work on that shot, and he's going to be — he could be the best power forward ever if he develops it."
You can read the full transcript here.
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