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Obama casts his vote, and you have to appreciate his loyalty

From Phoenix

So the First Fan is at it again, waving his giant foam finger, banging his Thunder Stix, bellowing from the bottom of his colorful headband wig.

“I don’t want to meddle…,” President Barack Obama told TNT in an interview that will be broadcast Tuesday night.

But … he thinks LeBron James should sign with his beloved Chicago Bulls.

That’s what Obama said, the First Fan putting the big lean on America’s top potential free-agent athlete.

“I will say this,” Obama told TNT’s Marv Albert, beginning a riff on the Bulls’ stars. Derrick “Rose, Joakim Noah, it’s a pretty good core. You know, you could see LeBron fitting in pretty well there.”

The First Fan doesn’t want to meddle, but when it comes to sports, he always meddles, speculating like the guy at the end of the bar, scolding like the guy in the upper deck, the leader of the free world acting like Barack from D.C. on Line 1, running the country while bringing the smack.

Since taking office in January 2009, Obama has publicly filled out March Madness brackets, pushed for a college football national championship, ripped Alex Rodriguez for using steroids, pushed for a Chicago Olympics, called for a U.S.-hosted World Cup and played P-I-G with members of the University of Connecticut national championship women’s basketball team.

All of which has caused critics to wonder, doesn’t this guy have more important things to worry about?

The answer is no.

For an American president, there is nothing of greater importance than reaching the American people. And there’s no better way of doing that than authentically sharing our passion for sports. Unlike any president before him, in ways that only true sports nuts will understand, Obama does that.

The First Fan is really a fan. He’s about more than an occasional first pitch or White House champion photo op. He’s about a wrinkled hometown baseball cap and weathered hometown loyalties and picking winners and spouting off at the heart.

He throws out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game and, even though he’s wearing a Nationals jacket, at the last moment he pulls on a cap from the Chicago White Sox.

Real fans, even those of the Nationals and Chicago Cubs, have to respect that. They know your favorite team is forever. Was there anything worse than Illinois native Hillary Clinton wearing a New York Yankees cap while campaigning to become a New York senator?

Obama is a White Sox fan. He wears the cap wherever. He is a Bulls fan. He wants LeBron. Makes sense to me. Even though that first pitch was high and wobbly, it was like his other sports moments, all fastball.

Sports fans don’t talk about athletes as dignitaries, but nutty neighbors, which is precisely how Obama does it. In the TNT interview, he refers to Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, but he does it only by their first names, speaking our Kobe and Shaq language to perfection.

Sports fans know it’s not only about backing winners, but being unafraid to call out losers, which is what Obama has done in consecutive springs in filling out a nationally publicized NCAA tournament bracket. Think about that. Since the tournament has only one winner, Obama actually picks 64 college teams to lose, and how often have our traditionally controversy-fearing presidents ever picked anybody to lose at anything?

Some might wonder how Obama can risk the loyalties of his voters who attended those schools. I’m guessing he’s actually cementing their loyalties by having the mettle to fill out a bracket and follow his instincts like the rest of them.

Besides, it all works when Obama himself becomes the loser. When his predicted champion Kansas fell early this year, millions of Americans who also picked the Jayhawks could shrug and say, “Hey, no big deal, the president’s bracket is also busted.”

“We have had other presidents active in sports, but Obama seems to be a real fan who is not afraid to let his emotions as a fan come out,” said presidential historian and sports nut Doris Kearns Goodwin. “Other presidents were always worried about making another team mad, they were always like, ‘I’m for everybody,’ but not Obama. He speaks a like true fan, and I think true fans really appreciate it.”

Goodwin said that Obama’s unveiling of another team’s cap at the Nationals game was his coming-out party as the First Fan.

“The White Sox cap was perfect,” she said. “He came across authentically as a fan who doesn’t abandon his team. Some wondered if people would use that against him, but it’s just the opposite. True fans adore him for it.”

For the last seven years I have appeared with other sportswriters on a blustery, opinion-filled ESPN sports talk show called “Around the Horn.” As strange as it sounds, Obama would be a perfect panelist.

He has ripped the BCS as some of us — not me, he’s wrong — have done. He has ripped Alex Rodriguez as all of us have done. And now he’s pushing LeBron James to Chicago just like most of the rest of us.

The First Fan will say it tonight and Cleveland folks will be annoyed, and Chicago folks will be thrilled, but everyone will have to admit, it’s real, and it’s bold, that Obama dude running his mouth again, one fan to another, one American to another.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke


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