Former U.S. President Barack Obama’s devout basketball and Bulls fandom is well-documented.
But according to former Obama communications director Dan Pfeiffer on the most recent episode of “The Crossover NBA Show with Chris Mannix,” there came a point in Obama’s time as the leader of the free world when he had to consciously reign in his inner blog boy.
It began with the Bulls’ drafting of Joakim Noah.
“Obama learned over the years that, being president and being a fan, you can’t be a normal fan when you’re president,” Pfeiffer told Mannix. “When he was running for president, we were in New Hampshire doing an interview with a local reporter a day or so after. This must have been the ’07 draft. And the reporter at the end just asked Obama, as a fan, what did he think of the Bulls pick, and that was the year the Bulls picked Noah.
“And Obama, as a fan, like a lot of, if I remember, Bulls fans at the time, thought it wasn’t a great pick because it was duplicative of Tyrus Thomas, who they’d taken the year before. And Obama said that, and it made a lot of news both in Chicago and in sports… So he realized that you can’t just pontificate on draft picks without some consequences when you’re president of the United States.”
Worse, Noah was an ardent Obama supporter. Also according to Pfeiffer, the eventual Bulls center spent part of his time at the University of Florida as a member of a grassroots, Obama-supportive student organization. Obama's comments didn't change that sentiment: In an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche in Feb. 2008, Noah endorsed Obama in the 2008 election and said he'd been a supporter since 2004.
But it’s hard to blame the ex-President too much for that take, ice cold as it ended up becoming. The Noah pick was widely polarizing at the time (and even through his rookie season), and Thomas wasn’t yet considered an unequivocal bust. Plus, Obama did eventually renege on those comments, even inviting Noah to his 49th birthday party at the White House in 2010, which saw stars across the NBA spectrum assemble for a pickup game.
That day spawned an anecdote that will go down as an all-timer, even for a player as celebrated as Noah. From former Obama senior advisor David Axelrod in GQ’s “The Oral History of President Barack Obama Playing Pickup Basketball”:
“[The President] ticked off Joakim Noah because the president was trash-talking him about his shot, [which is], shall we say, unorthodox. The president said, ‘Where’d you get that shot? That’s the ugliest shot I’ve ever seen.’ So at some point, Noah decided, ‘Okay, let’s see about yours.’ And he completely smothered the President. I mean he was guarding him and the President could not go anywhere. But I will say that with all of that, somehow playing against all these NBA players, he (Obama) mysteriously was able to hit the winning shot.”
Surely, the Obama-Noah relationship is all love now. But the evolution of it has certainly been a riot.
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