Washington — President-elect Barack Obama had just one disclaimer when he announced former pro-basketball player Arne Duncan as his education secretary: “I did not select Arne because he’s one of the best basketball players I know.”
Still, he conceded, “I will say that I think we are putting together the best basketball-playing Cabinet in American history.”
Not that they’d have much competition from the likes of John Foster Dulles, Henry Kissinger or Janet Reno.
“Over the presidencies of the 20th century there were Golf Cabinets, there were Poker Cabinets, and even I suppose Tennis Cabinets,” said John Sayle Watterson, author of “The Games Presidents Play: Sports and the Presidency.”
But basketball, he said, is a first. “I think this is sort of an updating of that.”
Obama is an enthusiastic player who picked up the game in junior high and became known as “Barry O’Bomber” in high school. You might even call the presidency his backup choice. He told Barbara Walters he dreamed of going pro until he realized he wasn’t good enough.
Duncan, a regular at Obama’s pickup games, can do him one-better. He co-captained the Harvard basketball team and played professionally in Australia before becoming the head of the Chicago school system.
Obama’s choice for national security adviser, James L. Jones, was a forward at Georgetown. Incoming Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner hates to miss a pickup game.
Eric Holder and Susan Rice, incoming attorney general and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, both played ball in high school. Janet Napolitano, Obama’s choice for homeland security secretary, has regularly guest-coached women’s basketball for Arizona’s three state universities.
Obama also plays with top adviser Robert Gibbs, Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias — who played professionally in Greece — and personal aide Reggie Love, who played on a Duke team that won an NCAA title.