President Barack Obama is said to be bringing British Prime Minister David Cameron to the First Four games at UD Arena Tuesday and - regardless if your politics are red state or blue - I think that’s great.
It’s good not only for recognition of Dayton’s ties to the tournament - and what that partnership does for our town - but if you are a basketball fan, you’ve got to like the fact that a hoops guy now calls the White House his home.
Over the years we’ve had presidents who boxed, wrestled, were into billiards, tennis, golf, swimming and sailing. Richard Nixon put a bowling alley in the White House and George Bush Sr. added a horseshoe pit. Andrew Jackson liked cockfighting and owned many gamecocks.
Obama is a basketball junkie. He talks it - he’s a fan of the Chicago Bulls and knows college hoops better than most - he plays it and, at age 50, he gets props for his “game” from other pick-up players.
But he’s certainly not the first Commander in Chief with a sports jones. In fact, several other men who have settled into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have had far more impressive athletic resumes.
Gerald Ford was a lineman on two Michigan football teams that won national crowns and he was the Wolverines’ MVP in 1935.
Jimmy Carter ran track and cross country at the U.S. Naval Academy. And George Bush Sr. played first base and captained the Yale baseball team that, twice in his Bulldog days, played in the College World Series.
Dwight Eisenhower was a halfback on the Army football team until a knee injury derailed his career and Teddy Roosevelt competed in boxing and tennis at Harvard.
Bad back and all, John F. Kennedy was an avid sailor. Abe Lincoln wrestled, Ronald Reagan was a strong swimmer, John Quincy Adams, James Garfield and Chester Arthur were into billiards and George W. Bush liked cycling.
As for sports wannabees, none tops Richard Nixon. The first U.S. President to attend a regular season National Football League game while in office, he called Miami Dolphins coach, Don Shula, before Super Bowl VI and recommended a play.
The play did not work.
In his book — “First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers and Cheaters from Taft to Bush” — Don Van Natta Jr. got a telling Nixon golf story from Sam Snead:
“He landed in some really bad rough no one could shoot out of unless you had a bazooka. I was watching him from the fairway when he disappeared into the thicket. Hell, I figured he was going to drop another ball. But hell no. Out comes the ball flying high onto the fairway.
“Then Nixon comes out of the woods looking real pleased with himself. I knew he threw it out, but I didn’t say anything. What would I say? He was the president.”
Nixon, though, was a good poker player, something he learned from his Navy mates during World War II. He became so transfixed with it that he once turned down a chance to have dinner with Charles Lindbergh when it conflicted with a game.
As far as presidents obsessed with their sports pastimes, none - notes RealClearSports columnist Tim Joyce — was more passionate than Teddy Roosevelt when it came to his tennis. He had the first court built at the White House in 1902 and soon had assembled a group of younger government diplomats and officials as his playing partners. They were dubbed The Tennis Cabinet and they had his ear more than anyone else.
That tennis court later was linked to tragedy during Calvin Coolidge’s presidency. His two teenage sons used to play there regularly and in 1924 Calvin Jr., played so much he developed a blister on his big toe. It became infected and a week later the 16 year old died of blood poisoning.
That same tennis court is where Nixon’s vice president Spiro Agnew — full of expletives and testosterone when he played — clobbered a playing partner with a serve. To that, Nixon cracked: ‘We ought to negotiate Cambodia with a tennis racket.”
When Obama installed portable basketball goals on the White House tennis court a couple a years ago, he wasn’t the first president to add a sports facility to his digs. Franklin Roosevelt put in a swimming pool for his physical therapy. Bill Clinton, an avid jogger, added a half-mile running track. And, as mentioned before, Nixon and Bush Sr. both made their additions.
And with the pressures of the presidency, who is going to argue about a guy having a place where he can recharge or simply sort his thoughts?
President Woodrow Wilson played nine holes of golf on the 1917 day he signed the Declaration that sent the U.S. into World War I.
On the campaign trail — even on the day he was elected the 44th president of the United States — Obama played in pick-up basketball games.
So sports seems to work for presidents.
Well, at least most of the time.
Although Eisenhower put a putting green in the lawn outside of the Oval Office, he soon had trouble with squirrels digging it up to bury their nuts. That caused a bit of a rift with former president Harry Truman, who had tamed the squirrels by hand feeding them.
According to a 1955 newspaper story in The Bulletin of Bend, Oregon, an undaunted Eisenhower had the Army Signal Corps put together a tape of supposedly terrifying sounds to scare the squirrels, but his fluffy-tailed rivals didn’t budge.
Finally box traps were brought in, but Eisenhower’s opponents in congress had a field day painting him as anti-wildlife and soon the whole squirrel campaign was disbanded.
As Senator Richard Neuberger, an Oregon Democrat, summed it up for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:
“Presidents come and presidents go, but the White House squirrels presumably will go on forever.”
He was right.
Ike is long gone as are nine other presidents. The squirrels are still there. Sometimes you see them they scampering across Obama’s basketball court.Tweet