Obama looked to basketball in his youth

April 15, 2008 1:56:40 PM PDT
Barack Obama says growing up without a father led him to play basketball and the game offered him a chance to identify racially in Hawaii, a state without a large black population. "Here is a place where being black was not a disadvantage," Obama told Bryant Gumbel in an interview. "Here was a sport in which we were dominant. All those things, I think, contributed to the idea that there's something special about this."

The Democratic presidential candidate talked about his love of basketball in a segment to air Tuesday on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel."

Basketball "connects up with the African-American experience in a special way," he said. "Almost in the same way that jazz music connects up with African-American culture. There's an aspect of improvisation within a discipline that, that I find very, very powerful."

An avid basketball player even on the campaign trail, Obama was a member of Hawaii's championship high school basketball team in 1979.

He said his strength then wasn't his jump shot, but getting around defenders. "My actual talent was in my first step," he said. "I could get to the rim on anybody."

What would a scouting report say about his skills today?

"Well, I have held up reasonably well as a 46-year-old," Obama said. "So, I'm still reasonably quick for my age. I would say my peers would have trouble guarding me tight outside. I'd go by them."

As for his jump shot, it's "worse than it was when I was in high school," he said.

Obama occasionally shoots hoops with his Secret Service agents. "Anytime I fell down, everyone went, 'Ooh,"' he said. "Here's the fact of the matter. I probably should not break my nose on the basketball court, I've done that once. I've lost a tooth."

Craig Robinson, who coached two seasons at Brown before taking the job at Oregon State earlier this month, said his brother-in-law "started out as a black player who played black. And is now more of a black player who plays white, just so he doesn't hurt." He added that after age 35, "we all play white."

Asked if he would like to play President Bush in a game of one-on-one, Obama expressed confidence in beating the president.

"You know, he looks like a pretty good athlete, he takes that mountain biking seriously," he said. "But I'm pretty certain I can take him."


On the Net: