April 07, 2010

On the important question of whether Barack is a good jock

I did see the game of H-O-R-S-E between President Obama and Clark Kellogg during Saturday's Final Four games. Obama won the game with nothin' but net on a left-angle 3-pointer. It was a thrilling game (they were actually spelling out POTUS instead of HORSE), since the Prez had to come back from P-O-T-U to nothing in order to win. As a result, some have wondered whether Special K went in the tank. Obama himself said something to this effect at the conclusion of the game, but he's notoriously good-natured about such things. Remember how he laughed off his 37 score in bowling (which actually was stopped early at 7 frames - I assume his handlers threw in the drying towel).

Here's a nasty take on Obama's athleticism from some anti-Obama blogger at the Sundries Shack:

Yesterday, a mighty horde of conservative bloggers had a good chuckle overPresident Obama’s sad attempt to throw an opening day first pitch. Okay, I admit it was funny to watch the President we’ve been told is a top-notch athlete lob a dying quail that came down somewhere in the general vicinity of home plate, but it leads me to wonder if the President’s storied athletic ability hasn’t been just the teeniestbit exaggerated.

The guy who posted this snark looks as though he broke into the sundries (or sundaes) shack in the dead of night and ate everything he could find. Still, as an aging ex-jock, I take the whole subject of athleticism seriously, far more seriously than I should, in fact. Ex-jocks are too quick to assign too much importance to athletics and athleticism, in my opinion. Whether or not Van Cliburn would have done as well against Special K as the Prez does not mean Van couldn't play the piano, but there is some unconscious connection, in the minds of male jocks, between general competence in sports and leadership or Presidentialness. I suppose at an atavistic level it computes: whom do you choose to round out the mastodon hunting party, a lithe, quick, natural-born killer like Barack, or a corpulent sack o' guts like the guy who writes on "Sundries Shack?"

But burrowing a little deeper: here's what I think might be going on, to the extent this has any importance at all, which it probably doesn't. Barack does look funny throwing a baseball. On the other hand, he's pretty natural at shooting a basketball, although he has an odd, inside-out, twisting release on his 3-point set shot (mistakenly called a "jump shot" often by TV news pundits, but what do they know? Most of them are wussy non-jocks and thus incompetent at their work). One can deduce from Barack's specialization that he's mostly a basketball player and not a "general" kind of athlete who grew up in a jocky household in a neighborhood full of kids playing pick-up games, or he would probably throw a baseball better and bowl a game at a score higher than one normally associates with birthday parties for girls just turning six years old.

George W. Bush looked quite natural throwing out the first pitch. In general, however, he looked and acted like a klutz and was famous for dumb moves like falling off his bike while riding over level ground in broad daylight (even at one point plowing into a Scottish policeman and seriously injuring him). Yet I imagine his years in West Texas, particularly as a not-serious student, meant that W played lots and lots of baseball and every other sport, and it shows. On the other hand, I never saw Bush attempt a three-pointer. Wish I could have seen that.

I bowled my first game at about age ten and rolled a 64; then again, the circumstances of my upbringing meant that, in order to survive in my household and in my neighborhood, it was necessary to play every sport there was, beginning at a young age. Thus, football, basketball, baseball, as absolute requirements, and then anything else that came along, such as bowling, tennis, ping pong, water skiing, whatever the course of life threw at us. You tried it, learned the rudiments. The President, I sense, was raised in his peculiar circumstances as more of a hothouse orchid, stage-managed and guided by a highly attentive mother who valued scholastics above all else. Nevertheless, he needed rounding out and basketball was his outlet (he's also a very good body surfer, as video has shown). Since this was the primary pastime permitted him, he took full advantage of it and developed his game, including an impressive knack for knocking down long-range set shots. Nevertheless, the action photo taken above, which shows Barack driving the left lane against North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, demonstrates that Barack has the natural instincts of a player trying to avoid eating the pumpkin. He missed this shot, but still...

Therefore, contrary to the uninformed blathering of the lipoid-challenged blatherer eating his way through the Sundaes Shack, I conclude that Barack is, indeed, a good athlete who did not become a great player, like Special K (who scored 51 points, an Ohio state record, in the state championship game when he was a senior in high school), primarily because that was not his main focus, but channeled his natural athletic ability into (a) general basketball proficiency and (b) a gym rat knack for knocking down threes. He does throw a baseball like a girl, but it could have been otherwise if he had grown up playing baseball.

And yes, Special K definitely tanked.

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