I don’t attach any significance to Barack (or Barry) Obama’s high school basketball career. However, several items in David Maraniss’s account of that career are interesting.
The notion that [Obama] was hampered in his progress because his style was more playground-oriented, that he played “black” and the coach coached “white,” distorts the dynamics of his own game, the performance of the other players and the coaching philosophy of [Chris] McLachlin. The reality was that Barry, as skilled and intelligent a player as he was, could not stand out in this group. He had good court sense and an ability to slash to the basket, but was an unreliable outside shooter and not much of a jumper, contradicting the stereotype of “black” ball.
Decades later, a story emerged that his nickname was Barry O’Bomber, playing off his last name and a propensity to fire away from long range, but few team members recalled that nickname and said the real gunner was Darin Maurer, who was better than Obama but barely got more playing time. Maurer never started at Punahou but went on to play Division I basketball at Stanford as a walk-on. Maurer was . . . a caucasian; race had nothing to do with it. . . .
“He loved basketball so much, I think a lot of things have been blown out of proportion,” said Lum [a high school teammate]. “Anybody wants to play. His style of play was flashy, but it was okay. McLachlin didn’t really put a damper on it. If you did a behind-the-back pass, McLachlin would frown on that, but when it came down to playing time, he [Barry] wasn’t one of the five best.” In fact, Lum and other teammates pointed out, Barry was only occasionally considered one of the top eight, the number of players McLachlin usually used in his rotation, following the substitution pattern of John Wooden, the brilliant coach at UCLA.
Second, after his team won the state championship, Obama, who had played only after the team took a massive lead, turned into a quote machine for a reporter from the school newspaper:
Barry wanted to be part of history. He wanted recognition. He wanted to be recorded in this glorious moment. He had seemed so cool and laid back — never panicked, never fazed — but now his burning will was on rare display. “One thing that stuck in my mind was the extent to which Barry. . .was in my face giving me the equivalent of sound bites, giving quotes left and right,” Egami [sportswriter for the school paper] recalled decades later. “He made sure he got something he said in the paper. Such good stuff, I couldn’t leave it out, though kind of schmaltzy. That night I knew there was a side to him that was scary. This guy is ambitious. He wanted the quote, and he got it.”
Third, Obama’s account of his high school basketball days in Dreams From My Father includes false information (is based on “composites,” I mean):
In one of the scenes with Keith Kakugawa, the character he called Ray in his memoir, Dreams from My Father, Obama broached the subject of basketball style, complaining that he did not get the breaks of other players on the team because “they play like white boys do” and that was the style preferred by the coach. Since Kakugawa was two years ahead of Barry, if this conversation took place he would have had to have been a sophomore, a fact that raises two contradictions. First, as a sophomore he was a long ways from making Varsity AA, and second, the head coach he was complaining about, Chris McLachlin, was on temporary leave during Obama’s sophomore year and did not return until the following season, when Kakugawa was gone.
In other words, Obama wrote an account of a conversation with Kakugawa that didn’t happen, in which he supposedly raised a complaint of race-based bias that didn’t exist.
What a guy.
As I said, I don’t care about Obama’s basketball career. But it would have been nice if, years later when he wrote his autobiography, he hadn’t misleadingly twisted that career to conform to a hack racial paradigm.
Photo courtesy Shutterstock.