The Heat Visit the White House
So the Miami Heat visited the White House and some sort of political event broke out. It started when Pat Riley was presenting the president with the traditional No. 1 "Bush" jersey, in this case in white.
"On behalf of the Miami Heat we are honored to be here at the White House today with Mr. President Bush," Riley said. "I am proud to be here today. I voted for the man. If you don't vote, you don't count...."
Then he gave President Bush the jersey, and the president said "Thank you for your vote" as they shook hands.
And so when it was all over and the participants were brought outside to meet with the media, Riley was pretty quickly asked, of all things, about the war in Iraq.
"That's not about today, ok?" he said, gently. "I'm pro-American, pro-democracy. I'm pro-government. I follow my boss. He's my boss, that's the way it goes."
His actual boss, Heat Owner Mickey Arison, then stepped in.
"The day I interviewed Pat...he said, 'No matter what I say, remember one thing: I'm a coach, I'm only a coach'," Arison told the media crowd, which included approximately 14 video cameras.
"If [Bush] asked me to go today, I'd go," Riley continued. "That's about it."
Later, Shaquille O'Neal was also asked about the war; with the help of a follow-up question, he deftly began talking about visiting veterans at Walter Reed, and how the experience convinced him never to complain about nagging toe injuries again.
In between those war questions, Dwyane Wade was asked seven questions, five of which concerned his injured shoulder. (For the record, he said will seek another opinion about surgery in the next day or so and make a decision shortly thereafter, that he's in high spirits, that there is a chance he could opt for rehab and therapy and return before the season is over, that if he does return it will be whole-heartedly and without any second thoughts, and that he's not in any pain. "I'm on high medication," he joked. "I really don't know what I'm saying.")
And then the players were finished, and NBC Chief White House Correspondent David Gregory made a strong low-post move in order to ask Shaq for his autograph, supposedly for his young son, who clearly needs to be taught a thing or two about journalistic impartiality. CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry was a step slow and didn't get the Shaq autograph for his young son, but he was extremely pleasant, and so I promised I'd send said son one of the Gilbert Arenas posters I liberated from the Verizon Center a while back.
All in all, a fairly strange afternoon. I wished Damon Jones had been on the team so we could have seen his outfit; instead we got Jason Williams, who had no tie and an unbuttoned shirt, although he still looked more formal than I did. There were at least one U.S. senator and at least eight congressmen present, including Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D - FL), in a Heat cap, and Rep. Robert Wexler (D - FL), who seemed to be carrying one of the since-discarded synthetic NBA basketballs. O'Neal, who took home best-dressed honors, had a signed leather ball, which he presented to Bush. The president attempted to dribble it, but either the ball had no air or the floor was too soft, because it didn't bounce all that much.
In other highlights, the president called O'Neal "Big Shaq (read the full transcript here);" Alonzo Mourning was given a standing ovation for his charity work; Wade was wished a speedy recovery; and there were plenty of handshakes and clicking cell phone cameras and all that.
Anyhow, as I was leaving the White House, I ran into a group of Eastern European kids outside, taking pictures. Turns out they were from the Future Leaders Exchange, a State Department-funded initiative that brings about 1,200 kids from Eurasia for a year in the U.S. About 800 of the kids had entered an essay contest, and the 120 winners were brought to D.C. Since I hadn't had a chance to ask Shaq any questions, I figured instead I'd ask random Eurasian teenagers about Shaq.
"I have heard this name," said Andria Nadiradze, of Georgia.
"He is a basketball player, yeah?" said fellow Georgian Giorgi Nutsubidze. "He is tall, he is huge. He is a good player."
As I was leaving, Giorgi said "future Shaquille O'Neal, you know?" pointing to himself. Since he was all of 5 feet 7 or so, this seemed unlikely, but Giorgi promised "I will eat lots of carrots to grow big," which was probably the best quote of the day.
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