Friday, August 17, 2007

Barack Obama and the Art of the Finger Roll

Barak Obama's basketball skills have gotten some coverage recently after a NY Times article shined light on his love for playground ball. This morning I came across a blog post at the Sports Review Magazine quoting a former coach of Obama as saying the slim 6'3" lefty guard was "a George Gervin-type" player who led Occidental College in scoring in 1979. Hmmm, sounds like it's time to set the record straight.

As an alumnus of Occidental and an unabashed fan of Obama's, I had never heard that he was the team's leading scorer. In fact, in "Dreams From My Father" he doesn't mention playing basketball at Oxy at all. I emailed Oxy's head basketball coach, Brian Newhall, who was a freshman at Oxy in 1979 - so he overlapped "Barry" for that one year. Coach Newhall said that Obama never played varsity basketball at Oxy. "My recollection is that Barry played in open gym pre-season pick up games and then chose not to continue. Various stories have been floating around. My memory is bad, but I do not remember him playing on our JV team."

I also heard from Oxy's Sports Information Director who said that no records exist linking Obama to the Occidental basketball team.

That settles that. No love lost here, though. Since leaving Occidental, Obama has balled everywhere from a prison in Massachusetts to army bases in the Middle East to Chicago's South Side to high-priced health clubs. If he can just come up with a coherent Middle East strategy, solve the health care crisis and balance the Fed's books then he'll prove himself to be the most well-rounded baller in the history of the game.


Kyle said...

Don't forget Bill Bradley. From wikipedia:

William Warren "Bill" Bradley (born July 28, 1943) is an American hall of fame basketball player, Rhodes scholar, and former U.S. Senator from New Jersey and presidential candidate, who challenged Vice President Al Gore for the Democratic Party's nomination for President in the 2000 election.

Jb1125 said...

From the washington post:

"Barry (the name Barack used then) played a small forward, or "three man," in our system. I would define him as a "slasher," very good driving to the basket off the dribble. But with limited shooting range, although fairly accurate from 12 feet in. Very athletic, fast, good jumper. He had a long, lean body and was a very good defender. He was a starter who scored about 10 points and six or seven rebounds per game. We would put him on the best forward of the opposing team, regardless of their height. His athletic ability, jumping ability, etc., allowed him to guard bigger or smaller players. We pressed a lot and Barry was an integral part of the press with his quickness and speed.

Barry was the same in victory or defeat -- even-tempered. You could sense that the sport and competition were important, but once the season was over, it was time to focus again on academic issues.

-- Mike Zinn, a basketball coach at Occidental College in Los Angeles when Obama was a student there in 1980-81."

Nate said...

Looks like this case is not closed. Based on the records, it is fair to say that Obama did not lead the team in scoring since he's not listed in the Occidental records according to the SID. But coach Mike Zinn knew his game so he had some involvement with the team. There's an assistant coach at Oxy named Reiner Kolodinski who was the point guard on the 1980 team. I'm going to try to get in touch with him to get confirmation on Obama's involvement with the team.