Maya Moore once "lit up" the president of the United States in a pickup basketball game.
On Tuesday, Moore and her Minnesota Lynx teammates lit up the East Room of the White House with huge smiles as they accepted President Obama's congratulations for winning the WNBA title last season.
"I had the pleasure of playing with Maya and she lit everybody up," Obama joked about Moore, who was visiting the White House for the fourth time after playing on championship teams at the University of Connecticut and the Olympics. "It is not fun when she's raining jumpers on you."
Moore returned the compliment. In an interview, she said the president, a hoops dreamer who plays regularly, "has a really accurate funky little left-handed jumper."
But it was Obama's praise for female athletes that really moved Moore and her teammates. "He appreciates us as role models for his daughters," Moore said.
The president ticked off superlatives for the first major league Minnesota team in 20 years to win a championship.
"There's no question that these are some outstanding basketball players," Obama said. "But they also find the time to raise money for breast cancer research, help local students with their reading. I hear they clean up pretty well for their Cat Walk for a Cure fashion show."
The president recounted how the team had the worst record in the league two years ago and had discovered "the recipe to go from worst to first" by drafting Moore and signing players such as Minnesota native Lindsay Whalen, the team's assist leader; and leading scorer Seimone Augustus.
This season, Obama said, "they've picked up right where they left off. ... I have a feeling that we might end up seeing them back here before too long."
The Lynx, who have already wrapped up home-court advantage for this year's playoffs with the best record in the league, finish the regular season on the road this weekend before returning home to start the playoffs.
Moore said repeating as champions would be hard, "but we want to be back here next year."
Obama, who accepted a Lynx team jersey, heaped special praise on female athletes as a group.
"As the husband of a tall, good-looking woman, and as the father of two tall, fabulous girls, it is just wonderful to have these young ladies as role models," the president said.
"We know all the statistics, but what's also true is that our women athletes just present themselves so well and are such great ambassadors for the game. And as I was pointing out, you don't see them on 'SportsCenter' doing stupid stuff."
Jim Spencer • 202-383-6123