The magic lasso

I've long thought that pickup basketball provided the ultimate insight into a man's soul. What can we tell about Barack Obama by his pickup ball demeanor?

On the court, Mr. Obama is confident, even a bit boastful.

“If he would hit a couple buckets, he would let you know about it,” said Alexi Giannoulias, who played in the late 1990s with Mr. Obama at the East Bank Club, a luxurious spot in downtown Chicago.

He is gentleman enough to call fouls on himself: Steven Donziger, a law school classmate, has heard Mr. Obama mutter, “my bad,” tossing the other team the ball.

But “he knew how to get in the mix when he needed to,” Mr. Giannoulias said. “There are always elbows, there’s always a little bit of jersey tucking and tugging,” he said, continuing, “Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to win.”

“Most of the guys who played in our little circle are former players in college or pros,” said Mr. Robinson, who is still Princeton’s fourth-leading scorer of all time. “They’re real high level.”

Mr. Obama cannot match their technical prowess, say those who played regularly with him. But he is fiercely competitive, and makes up for his deficits with collaboration and strategy. “He’s very good at finding a way to win when he’s playing with people who are supposedly stronger,” Mr. Nesbitt said.

The trope for assessing your sister's potential husband is to take him out for a drink, but far better, I think, to take him to a competitive pickup basketball game and see how he reacts. I suspect the disarming quality of pickup hoops has to do with the pace of the game and the instinctive behavior of people when their competitive juices are flowing (which is why board games are often a decent proxy). Obama's wife also believed in the power to discern a man's personality on the court:

Cut to the future Mrs. Obama asking her brother to take her new boyfriend out on the court, to make sure he was not the type to hog the ball or call constant fouls.

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