CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Hall of Fame basketball coach Dean E. Smith announced today that he is coming out of his decade-long retirement to coach basketball again. Smith will be taking the top job with the White House basketball team.
The White House team, the 1600s, which plays in the top level of the Governmental Operations Federal Intra-Governmental Intramural and Recreational League, features President Barack Obama at shooting guard.
Smith, who will turn 77 next month and was the University of North Carolina head men's basketball coach for 36 years before his retirement in 1997, said that he was looking forward to coaching Obama.
"He's a cagey player," said Democrat House Whip Jim Clyburn of Obama. "You watch him; all he does is drive to his left. Then when you think you have him figured out, he's spinning to his right. Pretty clever. The better you scout the dude, the less likely you are to be able to defend him," said Clyburn.
Many observers have noted that Obama does seem more natural going to his left. "Well, duh," said former Republican House Leader Newt Gingrich. "He's a lefty. Which way would you expect him to go?"
Smith said that he sees All-American potential in Obama. Noting that although their bodies and their styles of play were quite distinct, Smith said he could see parallels between Obama and former Tar Heel great James Worthy -- quickness for one.
"Sometimes James would quickly fake one way, then quickly fake the other, then come back to where he started -- and get fouled because the defender was still on the first fake. Obama does that a lot. It's effective -- if you can make the free throws, which James didn't always do," said Smith.
Observers say Smith may have been enticed back into coaching by Obama’s larger vision for basketball in the public sphere. They say Obama’s plan for the White House team is more than simply using it as an escape from the pressures of being a world leader and getting a little aerobic exercise. Obama is said to be planning to begin by using basketball contests as substitutes for legislative battles.
"For a man who went to work between the swearing-in ceremony and sitting on the inaugural parade reviewing stand, this is the perfect way to re-capture the lost work time that would have accrued during his exercise period," said House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Obama's scheme is to use basketball contests as "championships" of the kind described in the Old Testament story of David and Goliath, where the teams are champions for their side and the basketball games will stand as surrogates for legislative contests.
As Goliath is quoted as saying, as he challenged the Israelites to send their best man forward to a mano-a-mano contest, "If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall you be our servants, and serve us."
This “champions” plan may explain why Obama insiders appear to have been angling to get former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley, a basketball All-American who stands six foot five inches tall, appointed to fill Hillary Clinton's unexpired term as New York's junior senator. Caroline Kennedy is 5' 6'' -- in heels.
The White House 1600s could use some help. Currently 1-2 in non-conference, pre-season play, the 1600s lost in blow-outs to Rod Blagojevich's Illinois Sleaze team and, in their season opener, to a New Mexico team, the Ex-Govs, led by Bill Richardson. (Insiders say the disparity in foul calls in both games have led some to suspect that the game officials were paid off.)
The White House's only win came over the Senate Republicans, when the 1600s shut down the Old Right's offense altogether during their match up in the quadrennial Confirmation Classic.
When Smith, the author of the classic basketball text, Multiple Offense and Defense, was asked if he planned a "bi-partisan" approach during his new stint as coach, his response was quick, and accompanied by one of his classic referee-melting scowls. "Not as long as Krzyzewski is a registered Republican," said Smith.
Asked if he thought this model for resolving conflicts could be broadened to include international affairs, for example our disputes with the Russian Federation, Smith said that would only be possible “if we get different officials, scorers and timekeepers than we had in the Munich Olympics in 1972.”
Smith's announcement ended the rumors that had been swirling about that University of North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour was set to replace current UNC head coach Roy Williams "with a veteran coach."
Gary D. Gaddy, who, at age 10 or so, was injured before his first Optimist League game and used it as an excuse to drop off the team, and briefly considered going out for his high school's JV team, remembers going to his left only once in more than twenty-five years of pickup games in UNC's Woollen Gym. It worked.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald Thursday January 22, 2009.
Copyright 2009 Gary D. Gaddy