At White House, Obama Takes Friendly Jabs at Miami Heat, the Team of His Terms

Ethan SkolnickNBA Senior WriterJanuary 14, 2014

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Washington, D.C. — Comedians go with what they know.

And so, the man performing the standup show in the White House's East Room on Tuesday could be forgiven for falling back on some old favorites.

President Obama is a Chicago Bulls man, and those ties don't tear easily.

"The second longest winning streak ever," Obama said, when referring to one of the Miami Heat's many accomplishments during their 2012-13 championship season. "Extraordinarily impressive. Almost as impressive as the Bulls' 72-win season."

And this....

"So we’re very proud to have them back," Obama said. "We wish them great luck for the rest of the season...unless they’re playing the Bulls."

Both laugh lines hit the mark, and so did several others during the nine-minute ceremony, a ceremony that was considerably shorter but no less sweet than the one on this same stage 350 days earlier.

"Actually, for these guys it is welcome back to White House," Obama said, near the start.

This time, LeBron James wasn't given the mic to deliver any memorable lines—such as "Mama, I made it!" —so he spent most of the event chewing and smiling, behind Obama's right shoulder, with Dwyane Wade behind Obama's right. This time, Pat Riley—whose flu-related absence in 2013 raised questions in light of his support of Mitt Romney—was not only present, but shared a firm handshake with the president. This time, Chris Andersen wasn't a recent signee, sitting in the audience with the girlfriends, wives and broadcasters; he was in the back row, chuckling as Obama credited "Birdman's tattoos" and "Birdman's mohawk" for contributing greatly to the Heat's cause.

This time, in the spirit of the NBA's latest marketing scheme, Obama got a nickname jersey ("POTUS," presented by Ray Allen), in addition to a signed basketball (presented by Chris Bosh). This time, Obama mentioned Erik Spoelstra by name (rather than just calling him "coach"), even before Spoelstra presented him with a specially commissioned trophy, with the name "Barack Obama" and the number "44" written boldly amid all the other Heat names who played a part in the title.

But this time, it became even more apparent how much this team, and this president, share.

The Heat became the fourth major professional sports organization—after the Los Angeles Lakers, the Chicago Blackhawks and the San Francisco Giants—to earn two trips to the White House during the Obama administration. The Bulls and Chicago White Sox are the teams closest to his heart.

But this is the team of his two terms.

A polarizing team for a polarizing president.

"It's hard to hate us," James said later Tuesday. "It's just hard. Because we're just stand-up guys that want to do the right thing."

Obama might say the same about himself, after which Fox News would quickly quarrel with his assessment. After all, just as James has Skip Bayless blasting his every move, Obama has Sean Hannity.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 14:  U.S. President Barack Obama (C) welcomes the 2012-2013 National Basketball Association champion Miami Heat to the White House for a visit on January 14, 2014 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and ag
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This is the team that evokes similar passion to Obama's presidency, on one side or the other, for or against, intensely and angrily so. This is the team that some didn't believe was legitimately constructed, just as some from the fringe didn't believe Obama was legitimately eligible. This is the team that has been called "Hollywood as Hell," just as he's been called too much of a celebrity.

This is the team the public can't seem to talk enough about.

Just like him.

This is something that Obama acknowledged Tuesday.

"We've got members of both parties," he quipped. "Because we know nothing brings people together like the Miami Heat."

And this.... 

"This group has now won twice, it's gone to the Finals three times, and sometimes it feels like they're still fighting for a little respect," Obama said. "I can relate to that."

He relates to this team in a way we haven't seen a president relate to a team in recent memory. He knows everything about all of them, whether from personal relationships (with James, Wade, Bosh, Allen and Shane Battier) or from the same broadcasts we all see.

"First of all, he likes basketball," Wade explained afterward. "We're a team that's watched very closely and carefully. We're on TV all the time. We're in your face all the time. You get a chance to know us, and know what we're about."

So much so that Wade revealed that, during the 30 minutes prior to the ceremony, Obama "came in the room and threw a couple jabs at me. So that's how you know it's all good. Not too many people can throw jabs at me like the president. He knows so much about us, in our lives. I picked his brain a little bit on how is he a happily married man? So he gave me some tips on what not to do."

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 14:  National Basketball Association 2012-2013 champion Miami Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra (L) presents a commemorative trophy to President Barack Obama during an event at the White House January 14, 2014 in Washington, DC. This
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What Obama didn't appear to be doing Tuesday?

Reading from a staffer's script.

He simply knows this team too well, just as he knew the 2012-13 team, which was evident when he was mocking Mike Miller for the former Heat swingman's broken body.

This time?

Well, look at how he ended.

"With that, I think we should take a picture, but we should make it quick, before one of these guys starts yelling at Mario," Obama said. "I mean, sometimes it's just a bad pass. It's not Mario's fault."

No, it's not.

And it's not Obama's fault, even as a Chicagoan, if he's developed a soft spot for these champions.

"You know," he said, after receiving the trophy bearing his name, "you guys are winning me over a little bit."


Ethan Skolnick covers the Heat for Bleacher Report.