The Audacity of Hoop

If “the way you day anything is the way you do everything,” then Barack Obama’s basketball games should explain his administration’s approach to achieving its agenda over the past two years.

In soccer, we talk a lot about Direct and Indirect styles. The Direct style requires power and imposing physical superiority of size and strength. Kick the ball at the goal and go get it, the English call it “Route One” football.

In basketball, it’s power moves to the hoop and big men like Shaq.

As mentioned earlier, I see a correlation between these styles and those of our most recent leaders. In politics, W played direct. His approach to international relations, eventually known as the “Bush Doctrine” was as clear as it was intellectually limited: “it promotes use of unilateral preemptive force and persuasion rather than honest multi-lateral cooperation.”And was there any military attack more direct than the famous “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq? Straight up the middle, superior force, with huge expenditures of energy, resources and money. Without victory.

Obama plays Indirect. It’s a game more 2010 Barcelona than 2000 Man City. You can see this on the court. From a recent article on “According to (brother-in-law Craig) Robinson, the player Obama most resembles is stoic, Nixon-era point guard Lenny Wilkens.”

Looking Lenny up, we find: “As a player, Wilkens was diminutive in stature, but his list of accomplishments made him one of the giants of the game. His reserved demeanor belies his achievements while his self-effacing manner is reflected in his coaching style: a game plan based on unselfish offensive and defensive play that creates powerhouse teamwork” (, and: “After a Hall of Fame career as one of the great playmakers in basketball history, Lenny Wilkens turned to coaching and led his teams to more wins than any other coach in NBA history.” (emphasis mine)

“He ranks among the all-time leaders in assists, games played, minutes played and free throws made. The nine-time All-Star was also the MVP of the 1971 midseason classic in San Diego.”  [Read]. To lead the NBA in assists, you have to have vision, unselfishness and intelligence. I think our President is trying to do the same thing with his administration.

When Barack’s on the court, here’s what some have said of him:

He was a passer despite the fact he could score,” remembers classmate Andrew Feldstein. “Inclusive is the best way to describe him.”

Eyes up, look for the opportunity, share the ball, be patient

The Human Rights Campaign group lost my support when its president Joe Solmonese started trying to pressure the Obama administration to accelerate its gay rights agenda in the first thirty days of its tenure. After the election, he posted: “Obama wins; HRC declares victory.” Then his calls for action became more strident. He opposed Pastor Rick Warren’s invitation to speak at the Inauguration. In contrast, that middle-of-the-road appeaser Melissa Etheridge had this to say about it: “I will be attending the inauguration with my family, and with hope in my heart. I know we are headed in the direction of marriage equality and equal protection for all families.”

By June the HRC released positions such as,”LGBT Legal And Advocacy Groups Decry Obama Administration’s Defense of DOMA“. The HRC wanted to continue playing Direct, power basketball. Their feeling of “we have the votes, push our agenda through” wasn’t happening fast enough and they were incensed that Obama wouldn’t dunk all over the Republicans. Today they are celebrating the repeal of DADT on their web site.

Direct ball is fine if you have physical superiority and want to crush your opponent. But it is exhausting and in politics it creates resentment and backlash. Playing indirect is more sustainable on the basketball and in politics, creates partnerships. President Obama’s story will take eight years to write and understand. Today we’re at the end of the first quarter, and I think coach Lenny Wilkens would be happy with where the game stands.

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2 Responses to The Audacity of Hoop

  1. MTSutton says:

    Absolutely agree, Mr. Jim. What a perfect comparison! In this era of bubble-gum reality TV and instant gratification, fewer and fewer citizens seem to recognize, understand or have the patience for the indirect approach. It’s kind of the tortoise vs. hare story. Slow and steady more often wins the race.

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