NBA All-Star 2020

Barack Obama chats with Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Zion Williamson

Former president talks with young NBA stars during NBA Cares event on Friday

The Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young, Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic and New Orleans Pelicans’ Zion Williamson represent a large part of the NBA’s future. Young and Doncic are All-Star starters, while Williamson will play in Friday’s NBA Rising Stars game.

At an NBA Cares event in Chicago for NBA All-Star 2020, the trio were brought face to face with some living history as each of them chatted with former President Barack Obama.

The event was for volunteers to fill several backpacks with school supplies, and that work predictably stopped when Obama walked into the room for his unannounced appearance.

After Doncic and his World Team teammates finished media availability at Wintrust Arena, they helped dozens of Chicago-area children in stuffing backpacks with supplies to donate. Shortly thereafter, Young, Williamson and the U.S. Team’s players helped out, too, writes Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News.

As Doncic was coloring a bookmark with Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, Wizards forward Mo Wagner and some children, Obama walked over and greeted them. “You’re doing fantastic,” Obama told All-Star Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks, who was seated at a table with Kidd, now a Lakers assistant coach, when the 44th president made his way to their side of the room.

Obama gave Kidd a long embrace, then turned back to Doncic: “Don’t listen to him when it comes to shooting,” Obama quipped, clearly aware that Doncic is already a much better shooter than Kidd was in his career.

It was the first of multiple events for Obama during All-Star weekend: He’s scheduled to host a conversation with several top NBA players on Saturday, and it’s expected that he could appear at Sunday’s All-Star Game as well. Obama was at the event for more than a half-hour, spending the biggest chunk of that time manning a table alongside Williamson and Young.

Young said he spoke with Obama at the NBA Cares event and was taken aback by how much he knew about the Hawks’ star, his team and his game.

“[He said] he just loves watching me,” Young said. “He watches me all the time. [He was] telling me how it’s going to turn for the Hawks in the future. It’s crazy that he knew all those different things about me.”

Obama played the game as president and evidently still follows the NBA closely. He had no need for introductions; he knew who the players were, even greeting Miami rookie Tyler Herro by calling him “sharpshooter.”

“It was pretty cool,” said Herro, 20.

As for Williamson, he and Obama had a one-on-one chat, which the Pelicans star said he was taken aback by talking with Obama.

“For him to have one of the most busy schedules, for him to keep up with all of us, hats off to him,” Williamson said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him, just knowing us, knowing our stats. He said ‘career-high 32,’ man … crazy.”

“It felt great. It was even crazier when he started talking about my Duke games, him being at the game where I blew my shoe out. He’s even talking about my recent games. I was like, ‘You’re keeping up with me? I’m 19 … you’ve got superstars you can go and keep up with.’ It was crazy.”

Obama shook every hand, stopping to talk to the kids, players, coaches and staff in the room. He didn’t take questions at the event but seemed particularly impressed by one boy who told him he had submitted a winning essay to earn the right to be there — though the Obama appearance was a surprise until the moment he walked through the door.

“There’s really nothing like it,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s a president, he’s a young president who is really beloved by all of America but in particular the NBA family. He’s so in-tune with our game and it was a great honor to meet him.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.