President Obama is in only his second year in office but already a certain sameness has settled in when it's time for him to honor the champions of the National Basketball Association. That means another trip to Washington by the Los Angeles Lakers, another joke about his own basketball prowess, another reference to what he called his "busted lip," and another long-suffering lament about the plight of his beloved hometown Chicago Bulls.
The president did try to shake up the routine a little bit. Instead of inviting the Lakers to the White House, he met them at the Boys and Girls Club at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus, known as THEARC, in Southeast Washington. And he put them to work on a service project: assembling care packages for U.S. troops overseas.
Obama joked that he was forgoing the traditional visit to the White House because "these guys have been there so often … they could lead tours themselves."
He praised team members for spending time with the kids. "We celebrate that spirit of service off the court, because it's very hard to do what these guys do on the court but everybody can serve off the court."
The youngsters at the center, the president said, "need a little encouragement, and they need to know that no dream is beyond their reach. And so, when they see people like the Los Angeles Lakers who are willing to spend time with them, that sends a message to them that they're special."
NBA finals MVP Kobe Bryant and teammates Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher were singled out for praise by Obama, who also spent some time talking with Lakers forward Ron Artest and coach Phil Jackson.
There was no pickup game with the champs this year, but the president recalled playing in 2009. "I was not yet sidelined with my busted lip," Obama said. "But nobody was taking it easy on me because Pau was on my team, so I kept on just passing to him."