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The Basketball Game of Barack Obama's Life

10/20/2009

I know, seriously. ENOUGH with the hooping politicians stories already. But this is just too good.

Craig Robinson is the head coach at Oregon State. He's also a former Princeton player under Pete Carril who won some 3-on-3 tournaments playing with education secretary appointee Arne Duncan (who has been on TrueHoop more than a little in the last 24 hours). Most importantly for this story, though, Craig Robinson is Michelle Obama's brother.

When she first brought then-boyfriend Barack Obama home to meet the family in Chicago, it fell to Craig to use the magic lens of basketball to assess Obama's character. (I totally believe in this, by the way. You can tell a ton about someone by how they play basketball.)

Here, thanks to an account of the event penned by Robinson and in the current issue of TIME, is how it went.

We played a hard five-on-five, so there were definitely potholes for him to fall into. He wasn't the best guy out there, but he wasn't the worst guy. I liked the fact that he was confident but wasn't cocky or talking trash. Barack was very team-oriented, very unselfish. He fit in like he was one of us -- he wasn't trying to be president of the Harvard Law Review. But the best part about it was that when we were on the same team, he did not pass me the ball every single time. He wasn't trying to suck up to my sister through me. I thought, You know, I like that. I was relieved to give my sister the good news: "Your boy is straight, and he can ball."

People always ask me to describe my brother-in-law's game. Well, he has a very nice outside shot that has gotten better over the years, because as we get older, we can't go to the basket as easily. He's very thin, but he's not weak. You can tell the guy has played. He is extremely left-handed. Most left-handed guys are quicker going to their right. Well, he's better going to his left. I'll have to work on that with him.

Basketball is very therapeutic for Barack. He's always in a great mood before and after he's played. He looks forward to it. About 40 of us played on Election Day in Chicago, and there was an unspoken nonaggression pact. Not only was everyone afraid of giving Barack a fat lip before a possible victory speech to the entire world, but also, no one there wanted to sprain an ankle or something. We all wanted to participate, pain-free, in whatever might take place later that night. We set up four teams and played a round-robin tournament. Let's just say Barack fared better on election night than he did in hoops earlier that day.