Obama, an avid basketball fan, offered his opinion of the US national team, who struggled during much of a warm-up exhibition game against Brazil before putting their opponents away with an 80-69 win. Although Obama predicted in a half-time interview with ESPN that the current US team’s “unbelievable talent” would win gold in London, he did not hesitate to back the group loaded with future professional hall-of-famers who electrified the Barcelona Games 20 years ago.
“This is a generational thing,” Obama said at Washington’s Verizon Center. “I was around in ’92 and I was a Bulls fan, so I’ve got to go with the original ‘Dream Team’.” The Bulls he rooted for are his hometown Chicago Bulls. Los Angeles Lakers star and current Olympian Kobe Bryant created buzz last week when he suggested this year’s team – which also includes stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant – could beat the 1992 gold-medal edition led by NBA legends Michael Jordan, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird.
“Kobe is a competitor so you expect him to do a little trash talking whenever the opportunity arises,” Obama said, laughing.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were greeted by cheering and chants of “USA, USA,” as they took their seats at courtside.
Even the Olympics can have political overtones in a US presidential election year. Obama’s Republican rival, Mitt Romney, plans to attend the London games in what is seen as a bid to remind US voters of his leadership during the successful 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. The Democratic president is sending first lady Michelle Obama to the opening ceremonies in London.
At the USA-Brazil game, Obama had an awkward moment early on when he and his wife were spotlighted on the Kiss-Cam, an in-house video on a giant screen that encourages couples to kiss. They refused to comply, drawing loud boos. Near the end of the game, the Kiss-Cam focused on the Obamas again and he put his arm around his wife and drew her in for a kiss. The crowd cheered and some chanted “four more years.” Aides made sure the small pool of journalists who accompany the president were in position to record the moment.
On the court, the US team – hot favourites to win the gold in London – fought back from ten points down in the first quarter before gaining control in the second half. James, the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player, led all scorers with 30 points. They now head to Britain for a friendly against Team GB in Manchester tomorrow.