President Obama Hosts NBA Champion Spurs, Critics Grumble Over Spurned Paris March
In the midst of a middling season for the San Antonio Spurs, the defending NBA champions felt like champions once again at a visit to the White House on Monday afternoon.
Benzinga was at the White House as President Barack Obama hosted the team in the East Room.
The players entered looking giddy, followed by a jovial Obama and head coach Gregg Popovich, who had a hard time maintaining his trademark scowl.
“I want the coach to know he is not contractually obligated to take questions after the first quarter of my remarks,” Obama cracked.
“For an old guy, it makes me feel good too see, where’s Tim?” Obama said, with a nod to 38-year-old star Tim Duncan. "It makes me feel good to see that folks in advancing years can succeed in a young man’s sport. There’s a reason why your uniform is black and silver.”
The President acknowledged the Spurs’ diverse roster, making particular note of Becky Hammon, who the Spurs named as the NBA’s first-ever female assistant coach in August.
“As somebody who’s got two daughters, one who is a baller, it makes me feel good when excellence is recognized regardless of gender.”
He concluded with a quip, “If you guys need any tips on winning back to back, you know where to find me."
Though the Popovich-led Spurs have won five NBA title rings since 1999, this was the team’s first time being congratulated by President Obama.
The event closed with a presentation of a jersey and autographed basketball to the President.
Obama is known to be a frequent basketball player, but only one Spur was qualified to comment on the President’s basketball skills. Shooting Guard Danny Green was an NCAA star at North Carolina when Obama, then a Senator, stopped by campus for a pick-up game.
“He was a little rusty, but you could tell he had game back when he was young,” Green told San Antonio Express-News.
Can't Escape Controversy
The Spurs’ visit comes amidst controversy over the absence of the President or any cabinet-level officials at Sunday’s international solidarity march against radical Islam in Paris.
The march was attended by approximately 40 heads of state in response to a series of deadly terror attacks in and around the French capital.
Right-wing politicians and pundits pointed at the Spurs ceremony as an event that could have been re-scheduled, or hosted by Vice President Joe Biden, to allow the President to travel to France.
Fox News host Todd Starnes tweeted on Saturday, “Obama welcomes San Antonio Spurs to White House Tomorrow -- probably why he couldn’t make the trip to Paris tomorrow.”
In an op-ed for Time, Republican Senator Ted Cruz wrote, “The absence is symbolic of American leadership on the world stage, and it is dangerous.”
Benzinga was in the White House briefing room when Press Secretary Josh Earnest issued a mea culpa, saying that the administration “should have sent someone with a higher profile.”
Spurs players Tony Parker and Boris Diaw, both French nationals, seemed cheerful as they joined their teammates in accepting the President’s accolades.
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