Friday, June 1, 2007

How Barack Obama Plays Basketball.

What can we learn about the Illinois Senator and Presidential hopeful from his dribbles and jump shots, and why would anyone be interested?

Could it give us some clues into how he plays in the political arena?

Plato said one can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a lifetime of conversation.

The Senator's wife Michelle operated on that. During their dating days, she enlisted her brother's help, and got him to take her new boyfriend out on the court, to make sure he was not the type to hog the ball or call constant fouls.

Clever woman! I certainly think the way a person plays - whether basketball or Monopoly - can reveal a lot about their character.

The New York Times examines this aspect of the political rock star today.

Jodi Kantor writes:

"Barack Obama is a wily player of pickup basketball, the version of the game with unspoken rules, no referee and lots of elbows. He has been playing since adolescence, on cracked-asphalt playgrounds and at exclusive health clubs, developing a quick offensive style, a left-handed jump shot and relationships that have extended into the political arena."

"On the court, Mr. Obama is confident, even a bit boastful.

“If he would hit a couple buckets, he would let you know about it,” said Alexi Giannoulias, who played in the late 1990s with Mr. Obama at the East Bank Club, a luxurious spot in downtown Chicago.

He is gentleman enough to call fouls on himself: Steven Donziger, a law school classmate, has heard Mr. Obama mutter, “my bad,” tossing the other team the ball.

The article examines how basketball initially was a way for the teenage Obama to find a place in the black community, but it grew into something else:

"Now, Mr. Obama’s friends say, basketball has been his escape from the sport of politics, but also a purer version of it, with no decorous speeches, no careful consensus — just unrestrained competition.

“He can be himself, it’s a safe haven, he can let his competitive juices flow and tease his buddies,” Mr. Nesbitt said. “It’s just a relaxing respite from the every-moment and every-word scrutinization that he gets.”

Read the full article here.

There was some evidence of that tough player a couple of weeks ago as Obama addressed a group of people in Trenton, NJ, that so far has not warmed to him: blue collar and union members. Asked what he would do about Wal-Mart if elected president. He wouldn't shop there, he declared, and the crowd was quite pleased. (Obama didn't say this in Trenton, but his wife also stepped down from the board of a company that supplies the retail giant.)

Then Obama did something almost no presidential hopeful would do - he said something clearly counter to the values of his audience. He had some praise for Wal-Mart, classic target of labor movements: he said the company's business model for managing its inventory efficiently is something “we should admire.”

I find it admirable in this day and age where politicians have a different (or at least, customized) message for each of their varied audiences. And it sounds as if even those who didn't like his good words for Wal-Mart found that gutsy and somewhat appealing.

You can hear Obama's comments, audience response, and more on his efforts to court labor, in this NPR piece that aired on Wednesday.