Lakers on familiar turf with Obama
The president met most of the defending champs last year at the White House
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Your hometown, world-champion Los Angeles Lakers spent some time with the leader of the free world on Monday.
With all that moxie both sides were bringing to the meeting, it could have felt like two worlds colliding. Think Marvel and D.C. Comics ... or Dorothy and Munchkin Land ... or even "Relationship George" Costanza and "Independent George."
Instead, it felt like a reunion between old friends.
Nine of the 14 players on the Lakers and four of the five coaches met President Barack Obama last year at the White House to honor their 2009 NBA championship, and several of them didn't wait a full year for the 2010 title ceremony to come back to see the guy who was known as Barry O'Bomber in high school because of his hoops game.
"These guys have been [to the White House] so often and they were just there last year because they won the title, and Kobe [Bryant] and Derek Fisher have been there so many times now they can lead tours themselves," Obama joked. "The same is true for coach [Phil] Jackson."
Bryant has hung out with the president so often that he's lost track of how many times it's been.
"This is the fifth time meeting him," Bryant said. "Something like that. Fourth? Fifth?"
One of those times was this summer at President Obama's star-studded pickup game in August to commemorate the lefty's 49th birthday.
Bryant sat out the game as he rehabbed his right knee that was coming off recent surgery, but he found some time to bond with Obama during a barbecue on the White House premises.
"We talked for a good half hour or so," Bryant said.
Obama still wanted to talk about the game some four months later.
It featured the likes of All-American talents like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose -- "The list goes on and on ... it was like an All-Star game," remembered Bryant -- but the one player that just might have impressed the president of the United States the most was a European: Pau Gasol.
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"Nobody was taking it easy on me because Pau was on my team, so I just kept on passing to him," Obama said. "I got to see how everybody else on the Lakers gets so many open looks; [it's easy] if you got Pau Gasol in the middle."
Next time there's a timeout and Jackson comes to Gasol with a mouthful of guff or there's an unbalanced box score that shows Bryant getting too many shots in relation to him, Gasol need only remind them about being the president's favorite teammate.
"It's hard to explain, it was so touching," Gasol said. "I felt fortunate and honored that he would extend warm words, complimentary words, to me. I just feel very thankful."
Really, Obama was just returning the favor. In the last pickup game of the day, Gasol set a screen for Obama at the top of the key to free up the president to hit the game-winning jump shot from the right side.
It was the first time Gasol had picked up a basketball since Game 7 against the Celtics, and Obama made sure the Spaniard went home a winner.
Lakers backup guard Steve Blake -- who stayed incognito during Monday's ceremony and watched from the seats in front of the stage as teammates Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff filmed the president's speech on hand-held digital cameras -- has been a teammate of Obama's, too.
Earlier in the summer, while Blake was at the University of Maryland running his basketball camp, former Duke Blue Devils rival and Obama aide Reggie Love helped organize a pickup game involving Blake.
Like Gasol, Blake teamed up with Obama and this time led the president to the promised land the way the president led Gasol with the winning field goal.
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"I had to play hard to make sure we won every game with the president on my team," Blake said with a smile.
Now that the Lakers have reacquainted themselves with Obama, it's time for them to do the same with winning.
At the beginning of the season, when Bryant was guessing, "Fourth or fifth?" he was making a bet with trainer Chip Schaefer about how many wins the Lakers would need in a row to start the year before 70-win talk would start for his team.
With Andrew Bynum returning Tuesday to finish off this road trip, it's time to get back to that.
If the Lakers develop a little sense of urgency from now until June, they will be seeing their old friend Barry O'Bomber again next year.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.