WASHINGTON— President Barack Obama hosted the Miami Heat at the White House Monday — and implied that in his role as hoops fan-in-chief he had a role in helping the team win its 2012 NBA championship.
During the East Room ceremony to congratulate the team seven months after the Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA finals, Obama noted that some of the players had visited the White House during the summer to play a pick-up game on his birthday.
“Now, I’m not trying to take all the credit…but I think that it’s clear that going up against me prepared them to take on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook,” he said.
Obama emphasized the Heat’s teamwork and ability to learn from past mistakes, which he said pushed them to victory after falling short just a year earlier.
“It’s especially impressive when you think about everything they’ve had to deal with over the last few years,” he said, referring to the negative publicity over the signing of star forward LeBron James. “This team inspired a lot of passion on both sides.”Obama was a good sport about not getting the chance to host his favorite team instead.
“Even though I’m a little disappointed that the [Chicago] Bulls didn’t make it, I do want to congratulate the Miami Heat,” Obama said. Although many of the players are used to star treatment, they still couldn’t hold back their excitement at being in the White House.
“We in the White House!” LeBron James said after presenting Obama with a team jersey with the president’s last name and the number 44 on the back. “This is like, ‘Hey, mama, I made it.’”
When guard Dwayne Wade suggested that the team draft Obama, the president replied, “You guys need a shooter.”
Obama also applauded the team for visiting wounded troops Monday at Walter Reed Medical Center. He said it exemplified their ability to be role models.
“That’s a good message to send. It’s a positive message to send,” Obama said.
The White House event went much more smoothly than the last time the Heat visited in 2006. During that occasion, the team presented President George W. Bush with an autographed ball that wasn’t fully pumped. When Bush attempted to dribble, it fell to the floor with a thud.
The Heat is in the middle of a four-game road trip that includes games against the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors.