Lakers eager for visit with Obama
NEWARK, N.J. -- Last season, Los Angeles Lakers forward Ron Artest feigned the flu when his new team made a trip to the White House to be honored by President Barack Obama for the title it won in 2009 without him. Artest, however, had told teammates leading up to last year's event that he was worried he would feel like a third wheel, according to the L.A. Times.
Artest, who was part of the Rockets team that lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals that season, won't be staying back at the hotel this time. Instead, he will be front and center hoping for a handshake from President Obama when the Lakers are honored Monday for their 2010 championship at a Washington D.C.-area Boys & Girls Club.
"It should be fun," said Artest. "That's what you get when you win a championship. It's well deserved. It will be good to see him and put it behind you and start working towards a new goal."
The Lakers have five new players on their roster this season that were not part of the team that beat Boston in Game 7.
Rather than holding the event at the White House like last season, the team will participate in a service project along with elementary school kids before President Obama makes his presentation, thus including the new guys --Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff, Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter -- in the day's festivities.
"That way I can still give back, I don't have to be in the pictures with the president and all that stuff but still take the time to do something good," said Blake, who added that he checked with members of the organization's front office to see if it would be appropriate for him to attend seeing as he was on the Clippers last year.
Blake, who met President George Bush at the White House after his Maryland Terrapins won the 2002 NCAA men's basketball tournament, said it will be a special day for his new teammates.
"It's a time that you got to cherish as the champions," Blake said. "I got to meet the president after we won the national championship."
Barnes also plans on taking Blake's low-key approach.
"If we had went to the White House, that was something I was probably going to sit out of because that had nothing to do with me," Barnes said. "I'm still just going to play the background. I had nothing to do with that team, that's still their moment for the most part."
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Kobe Bryant, who along with his wife and kids, had a private session with President Obama the day after the team ceremony last year, beamed with pride when asked about the event.
"It's still special," Bryant said. "It's a huge honor to go back every year. To say the least, it's an honor because the best team in the world in their respective sports get a chance to meet the president and this year, again, we're that team."
Lamar Odom said that knowing the president is a hardcore hoophead gives the presentation even more meaning.
"I think that makes it a little bit cooler -- our president hoops," Odom said. "He follows up, knows us on a first name basis. He's not fronting."
Odom wouldn't mind seeing the president every year.
"After the ring ceremony, meeting the president is kind of the icing on the cake," Odom said. "Back in full circle. A year ago we were there. Hopefully it won't be our last time."
Barnes shared his sentiment.
"I'm hoping that we start playing better so I have my chance to really embrace the opportunity next year," Barnes said.
Artest said last week that he would break out his patented defense on the president if there happened to be a pick-up game planned for Monday.
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"I'm assuming he wouldn't want to play me in basketball," Artest said. "If that little, horrible player gave him 12 stitches, playing up against Ron Artest would be pretty tough. I'm assuming he doesn't want to see my defense. I'm assuming he won't be in basketball apparel, I'm assuming he'll be in a president outfit."
Bryant plans to put a stop on any basketball-related roughhousing Artest had planned for President Obama.
"I'm not letting any of my guys play him," Bryant said.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.