On Tuesday, for the eighth and final time in his presidency, Barack Obama completed his NCAA Tournament brackets on a giant whiteboard in the Oval Office. The tradition of “Baracketology” is one of several nods that the president has made to his favorite sport. As Alexander Wolff ’79 writes in The Audacity of Hoop: Basketball and the Age of Obama, “other than golf to Ike, no game has been as tightly lashed to a president as basketball to Obama.”
Eisenhower’s fanatical devotion to golf inspired at least three books; for Obama and hoops, Wolff’s is the first.
Wolff, a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, explains Obama’s basketball biography as a long and meaningful thread in his life story, dating back to the year when his father, Barack Sr., gave him a ball for Christmas. And the game may have helped to pave his way to the White House in 2008: Hoops-themed campaign stops aided strong primary performances in places such as North Carolina and Indiana.
The Audacity of Hoop features an array of photos, including young “Barry” playing with high-school friends in Hawaii; the presidential candidate scrimmaging with the UNC men’s team; and Obama and aide Reggie Love coaching Sasha Obama’s youth league team. (In a NewYorker.com review, Ian Crouch cited the latter as particularly revealing: “He sits on the bleachers, his mouth open in a show of paternal amazement — not the President but just a goofy, proud father.”)
For Princeton readers, The Audacity of Hoop mentions several Tigers, including the obvious — first lady Michelle Obama ’85 and her brother, former hoops star and current ESPN commentator Craig Robinson ’83 — and a few unexpected ones, such as State Department official Richard Stengel ’77, a letterman on the 1975 NIT Championship team, and economic adviser Paul Volcker ’49, a reserve center during his undergraduate days.
Ariel Investments CEO John Rogers ’80, a former Tiger captain who has known Obama for more than 25 years, vouches for the quality of the president’s pick-up games. “He’s around a lot of guys who know how to play,” Rogers tells Wolff, “and aren’t just running up and down the court.”