There are certain perks that come with having won six world championships and being a member of basketball’s Hall of Fame.
One of them, as Scottie Pippen learned this week, is that you get an invitation to play in President Barack Obama’s traditional Election Day basketball game.
So on Tuesday afternoon, as millions of Americans took time out of their daily routine to vote, Pippen joined Obama, along with some of the President’s closest friends and top advisors, on a basketball court roughly one mile west of the United Center.
Pippen and the Bulls met United States Presidents on more than one occasion in the 1990s. But it wasn't until this week that he got to join one on the basketball court.
“When he first entered the gym, if you hadn’t looked over to see him, you wouldn’t have noticed,” said Pippen of Obama. “It was surprisingly low key. He just came in and started shaking hands. He’s someone who is very easy to approach.”
It was the first time Pippen had met Obama. The connection was made through a mutual friend, Marty Nesbitt. Obama mentioned that Nesbitt thinks very highly of Pippen.
“He said it was a pleasure to meet me and that he had heard good things about me from Marty,” said Pippen. “I told him, ‘Thank you and I wish you well tonight. But if you want to be a winner this afternoon, you better play with me.’”
Apparently the President agreed, so when the action began, Pippen and Obama were on the same team, in addition to former Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and two others. And this was no informal pickup game—there were officials, a running clock and four 12-minute quarters.
As for a scouting report on the left-handed Obama, Pippen came away impressed.
“He’s not an overly aggressive player, but he takes what the defense gives him,” said Pippen. “He’s got a smooth game. He probably used to be a little more aggressive, but obviously he doesn’t want to get hurt.”
That certainly wasn’t going to happen if the defense had anything to do about it.
“I thought the lanes opened up when Michael Jordan used to drive,” laughed Pippen. “I used to be like, wow. But when I saw the President drive, I thought they were bringing the whole motorcade through the lane it was so wide.”
In the end, and perhaps this comes as no surprise, it was Obama and Pippen’s team who walked away with an easy win.
“We kind of blew them out,” said Pippen. “It should have been worse but we started messing around at the end. The game was close for awhile, but in the third quarter we opened it up. They tried to get back in it in the fourth, but we kept expanding the lead. It was a good game, fun and competitive.”
The Election Day games began when Obama played on the day he won the Iowa caucuses in 2008. They became tradition after he lost the New Hampshire primary to Hillary Clinton on a day in which Obama did not play basketball.
Other participants in this year’s edition included former Bulls guard Randy Brown, currently the team’s Special Assistant to the General Manager, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Mr. Obama arrived in Chicago late Monday night after a full day of campaigning, his last stop being in Des Moines, Iowa. As he did in 2008, the President will spend election night in his hometown, this year hosting a rally at McCormick Place.
The game wasn’t the first time Pippen, who serves as Special Advisor to the President and COO for the Bulls, has been in the company of a sitting President.
Pippen and Horace Grant walk the White House grounds with President George H.W. Bush during the early 1990s.
During the Bulls dynasty of the 1990s, Pippen and his teammates had the opportunity to meet President George H.W. Bush during the first three-peat. They also visited with President Bill Clinton, who like Pippen is an Arkansas native, on more than one occasion during his time in office.
But running up and down on the basketball court with President Obama was obviously a unique opportunity for Pippen that he will never forget.
“It was a very special experience to play ball with the current President on Election Day. That says it all,” said Pippen. “You sit there and wonder what the President is doing on a day like this aside from voting. It was very enjoyable for me and something I’ll always remember. I got to see the President in a relaxed atmosphere—no suit, just one of the guys. It’s a story I can tell my kids and have them look back on.”
After they finished playing, Obama approached Pippen and told him, “Hey, I’ve got to get you out to the White House.”
Pippen’s response: “For sure, Mr. President.”