One decision Barack Obama won't delegate

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
1:37
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Pete Souza/The White House/Reuters
The baller-in-chief picks the teams.

If you're a prisoner hoping for leniency from the judge, research shows it'd be good for you to get a morning appointment. Later in the day, after making lots of decisions, judges, like most of us, begin to suffer from decision fatigue. Decide too many things, researchers say, and you begin to get a bit sloppy. CEOs make a disproportionate number of bad decisions late in the evening; quarterbacks get reckless late in games.

It's research Barack Obama knows all about, and he says it's why he wears a blue or gray suit every day. He's not going to waste some of his decision making juice on a little thing like what he's going to eat, either -- not with the war on terror, the economy, the campaign and all that to focus on.

"You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can't be going through the day distracted by trivia," President Obama tells Michael Lewis in a fascinating Vanity Fair profile.

Meanwhile, the same article makes clear that picking teams in pickup basketball is not something he has outsourced. Lewis writes about arriving at the president's pick-up game:
A dozen players were warming up. I recognized Arne Duncan, the former captain of the Harvard basketball team and current secretary of education. Apart from him and a couple of disturbingly large and athletic guys in their 40s, everyone appeared to be roughly 28 years old, roughly six and a half feet tall, and the possessor of a 30-inch vertical leap. It was not a normal pickup basketball game; it was a group of serious basketball players who come together three or four times each week. Obama joins when he can. “How many of you played in college?” I asked the only player even close to my height. “All of us,” he replied cheerfully and said he’d played point guard at Florida State. “Most everyone played pro too—except for the president.” Not in the N.B.A., he added, but in Europe and Asia.

Overhearing the conversation, another player tossed me a jersey and said, “That’s my dad on your shirt. He’s the head coach at Miami.” Having highly developed fight-or-flight instincts, I realized in only about 4 seconds that I was in an uncomfortable situation, and it took only another 10 to figure out just how deeply I did not belong. Oh well, I thought, at least I can guard the president. Obama played in high school, on a team that won the Hawaii state championship. But he hadn’t played in college, and even in high school he hadn’t started. Plus, he hadn’t played in several months, and he was days away from his 51st birthday: how good could he be?

The president ran a couple of laps around the gym, then shouted, “Let’s go!” He himself divvied up the teams so each one had roughly the same number of giants and the same number of old people. Having put me on his team, he turned to me and said, “We’ll sit you first, until we get a little bit of a lead.” I thought he was joking, but actually he wasn’t; he was as serious as a heart attack.

Apparently Obama made good decisions in this case. After five games, the two sides were fairly evenly matched -- but the commander-in-chief's squad was ahead, three games to two.

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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