It’s no secret: Former President Barack Obama is a fan of the Tar Heels. His official March Madness brackets often favor UNC, and then-candidate Obama famously stopped by Chapel Hill in 2008 for a pickup game.
Less well-known is that the admiration is mutual, at least for UNC Coach Roy Williams. In an oral history on Obama’s legacy as a pickup basketball player published Thursday by GQ, Williams recounted memories of his time with the former president – and some of what he thought of Obama’s performance in office.
“One time I told him, I said, ‘President Obama, you’ve got a job like a bad basketball coaching job.’ ” GQ quotes Williams as saying. “ ‘You got there in situations that were really difficult, and you got it changed and turned around.’ The economy, the unemployment was like 10 percent and it’s down to 4 percent. But I said, “You’re probably never going to get credit for doing it.” And he just laughed.”
Williams discussed the specifics of Obama’s game and what he saw during Obama’s 2008 appearance at a UNC practice.
“He has (some) sneaky little lefty, old-school moves,” Williams told GQ. “One of my players Jack Wooten tried to block his shot and I yelled at him. I said, ‘Jack, this guy could be the President of the United States. What’re you trying to do that for?!’ And President Obama just picked up on it so quickly. He said, ‘You see that secret service guy over there?’
“Pardon the phrase because we’re talking about the President of the United States,” Williams added later on, “but my man doesn’t have the greatest basketball body. Let’s just be honest about this.”
A Washington Post piece from last December about Obama’s relationship with aide Reggie Love, a former Duke basketball and football player, revealed Obama’s admiration for Williams in particular.
“He loves Roy Williams,” Love told the Post. “It’s sickening how much he loves Roy Williams. I admire Roy and I admire the Carolina program, but I still have these thorns in my sides because (Obama) never visited Duke’s campus.”
Clippers guard Chris Paul, who played at Wake Forest from 2003-05, and Shane Battier, a retired NBA star and Love’s former teammate at Duke, were also consulted for the GQ piece. They each discussed how surprised they were by the former president’s game. Paul said he was “shocked” by some of Obama’s moves.
Battier remembered being on Obama’s team for a pickup game held as part of the former president’s 49th birthday festivities.
“I think there were probably internal discussions on other teams, like, ‘Look, if the President goes for the basket, do not foul him hard,’ ” Battier said to GQ. “ ‘There are guys with very large guns on the sidelines. You do not want to be taken out by them.’ Luckily, the president didn’t go too hard to the rack.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan