WASHINGTON – The Timberwolves received a 90-minute tour of the White House that included a visit with President Obama during one of their two days between games in Philadelphia and Washington.
The commander in chief and leader of the free world for the next two weeks offered them a scouting report of themselves.
“Yeah,” Wolves guard Ricky Rubio said with a grin. “He said we’ve got to play better defense.”
The president is a basketball fan who regularly plays pickup games — including every Election Day — and annually made his NCAA tournament picks public.
He’s also, in particular, a fan of his hometown Chicago Bulls and who cheered Tom Thibodeau’s successful teams when Thibodeau, now leading the Wolves, coached there. In fact, Obama tweeted about the Bulls’ decision — “Love Thibs” and “Sorry to see him go” — hours after they fired him in May 2015.
Thibodeau was associate head coach of the Celtics and met President George W. Bush when Boston’s 2008 championship team visited the White House. He is an acquaintance of Obama’s through mutual friends Arne Duncan, the former U.S. Secretary of Education, and David Axelrod, Obama’s campaign strategist and now a political analyst.
Thibodeau considers outings such as the White House visit and November’s trip to see the Broadway musical “Hamilton” team-building and said the chance to tour the White House and meet the president Wednesday morning was too good to pass up.
“I’m a big fan of his,” Thibodeau said. “He did a great job and he was gracious enough to make time for us. … I know our guys have a lot of respect for him and the job he did.”
Wolves forward Shabazz Muhammad called the experience “amazing” as well as an “honor.”
“It was really interesting to see how the White House runs,” Muhammad said, “to see all the specific rooms and the [portraits] of all the presidents. It was pretty impressive. … It felt like a school trip.”
Muhammad, Rubio and Gorgui Dieng tweeted photos of themselves standing near the lectern in the White House press briefing room.
“It was dope,” Wolves guard Zach LaVine said. “It was very humbling and something you won’t forget.”
Obama apparently has scouted the Wolves. Muhammad said the president knew which college each player attended and addressed them by first name.
“He said, ‘What’s up, Zach? How you doing, Mr. Dunk Champ?’ ” LaVine said, “and he said, ‘I used to be able to get up like you back in the day.’ He’s a cool dude.”
Rubio has accompanied the Spanish national team at least three times to Madrid’s palaces where he met his home country’s king and prime minister. This was his first time to the White House, outside of which bleachers and grandstands have been constructed for President-elect Donald Trump’s upcoming inauguration.
“It was fantastic, I loved it,” Rubio said. “It’s one of the great things to see about America, the White House. I like history, so it was something. Ours are not as big as the White House.”
When told he looked very presidential at the press briefing room lectern, Rubio said, “Do I? I may run for it.”
He also was told he looked plenty serious.
“I had to,” Rubio said. “Presidents are always serious. They have serious problems.”
Obama apparently is aware of the Wolves’ problems, too. He mentioned to them their need for better defense, but did not bring up their troublesome third quarters.
“I’m surprised he didn’t,” Muhammad said. “He said some good stuff, too. He said we could score the ball, but we have to play some defense. It was a really good experience for us, and I’m happy we got the moment. I was always curious about what it’s like. You know how the NBA champs always get to go there? Hopefully, we’ll get to be champs one of these years.”