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Obama plays hard on and off the court


The following ran on the March 8, 2012, edition of The Hill. Political Scientist Cal Jillson provided expertise for this story.

March 21, 2012

For President Obama, politics translates to sports, and the two worlds often come together.

The president’s goal — from the basketball court to the Scrabble board and campaign trail — say those who know him, is simple: He wants to win, and he strategizes and carries himself the way LeBron James would as he prepares for the NBA finals.

“He’s always thinking about winning,” Reggie Love, Obama’s former personal aide and hoops buddy, told The Hill. “If he has 10, 20 or 2 [points], he just wants to win. If he wins and doesn’t play well, he’s happy. If he wins and plays great, he’s happy. If he loses, regardless of how he plays, he’s unhappy.”

“He’s the most competitive person I know,” added Robert Gibbs, the former White House press secretary. “If there is some function of scoring kept, he’s playing as hard as he can to win, whether it’s basketball or cards or anything else.”

The danger for the über-competitive president (known for trash-talking on the basketball court) comes in believing his own hype.

In recent days, in interviews and speeches, Obama has advertised that he surprised NBA player Chris Paul with his “solid” crossover move when he played the Los Angeles Clippers point guard in hoops. He has also repeated time and again that he’ll win the battle against his likely opponent Mitt Romney, saying he’s got five more years in office. ...

“His opponents have given him every reason to be confident, if not overconfident,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “The way the campaign is shaping, they’re feeling better and better about their prospects.”

Jillson said Obama, arguably the most athletic president in recent memory, uses sports analogies and metaphors because they generally work — especially for him. “They’re part of normal conversation, particularly among men,” he said. “The idea of finishing strong and being a clutch shooter and hitting your shots is interpretable by anyone.”...