By Jose Castillo, sports columnist
On the lighter side of last week’s news, the 2016 NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers visited the White House and were gracefully received by President Barack Obama.
“That’s right,” announced Obama after introducing the Cavs. “I said ‘World Champions’ and ‘Cleveland’ in the same sentence. That’s what we are talking about when we talk about hope and change!”
Standing in front of the South Portico, at first seeming firm and stoic (aside from Cavs forward LeBron James, who promptly began talking selfies and videos), the team quickly responded to the jabs and jokes that the president threw their way, sporting smiles and lowering their shoulders in ease.
The Cavs made NBA history last season, not only bringing home their first Champion victory ever, but being the first team to ever come back from a daunting 3-1 deficit during the final series.
After acknowledging notable politicians in attendance, including Ohio Governor John Kasich, Obama turned around and gave recognition to several members of the Cavalier franchise, even referring to Head Coach Tyronn Lue as “the pride and joy of Mexico, Missouri.”
Lue, who had previously rejected a White House invitation back in 2002 as a player for the Los Angeles Lakers, was determined to meet with the president this time around.
“As a young guy, you just take things for granted. You don’t really understand those opportunities and what that means,” Lue told Cleveland.com. “Now, I’m happy with the fact that 17 years later I’m able to have an opportunity to go again. So I’m going to take full advantage of it.”
Obama also made reference to his post-Finals request that shooting guard J.R.Smith put a shirt back on.
“Before I go any forward, I want to give special thanks to J.R. Smith’s shirt, for showing up”, teased the President, “I wasn’t sure if it was going to make an appearance today.”
A video of a phone call between Lue and Obama went viral after the president asked that Smith put a shirt back on. Smith had famously walked around Cleveland without wearing a shirt for nearly a week after the conclusion of the championship series.
The White House visit made by NBA teams after winning the Finals is held as an important tradition in politics-sports relations. Sport teams first began to visit the White House in 1865, when President Andrew Johnson hosted two amateur baseball teams in the nation’s capital. It wasn’t until 1963 that a NBA team would see the inside of the president’s home, when John F. Kennedy hosted the then-six-time champs Boston Celtics, a roster stacked with nine Hall of Famers, including legends Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn and John Havlicek. The tradition stands as a hallmark of how sports can bleed into other parts of life, and that the characteristics needed to be champions in a high caliber league deserve recognition from our nation’s highest office, as to display these traits as examples of what all Americans should strive for.
However, with the controversial election of business and television mogul Donald Trump, players and pundits have both voiced uncertainty regarding the future of White House visits. Small forward Richard Jefferson told followers on Snapchat that he felt honored to be a part of the last team to visit the White House. Such a feeling towards the president-elect had been echoed by several other prominent NBA members, including several head coaches.
“Everybody wants [Donald Trump] to be successful. It’s our country, we don’t want it to go down the drain,” remarked San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich after Tuesday’s election results. “But it does not take away the fact that he used fear mongering and all those comments from day one.”
Perhaps a sport column is not the right platform to make such a statement, but I, also, felt uneasy after the conclusion of last week’s election. However, to discard a ceremony that helps so much to humanize the President, as well as honors our nation’s greatest athletes, allows the lack of empathy every so present in this year’s election season to seep into and ruin another great American tradition. Perhaps some of you out there also hold a sense of uncertainty, and understandably, it may scare you, but it is in these moments were we can exceed expectations and overcome difficulties. You and I are both down 3-1, so it’s time to win the next three.