Lynx visit White House, meet with Obama
Maya Moore is not on a first-name basis with President Barack Obama.
Not after visiting the White House several times in college, not even after playing basketball against the commander-in-chief, and not even now, after this latest visit honoring the Lynx's 2011 WNBA championship. Moore is still a little bit in awe.
"He is (on a first-name basis) with me, but I still call him Mr. President," she said on Monday.
Despite that lingering formality, it didn't take Obama long Tuesday to bring up his relationship with the former UConn star. He congratulated the Lynx and head coach Cheryl Reeve. He ran through an impressive list of their on-court accomplishments. And then quickly it was back to Moore, who's becoming one of his most frequent visitors.
"She is becoming a regular here," Obama said. "This is like the fourth time she's shown up at the White House. She just likes to attract hardware."
Joking aside, Tuesday's White House visit was a huge honor for the entire team. Eight players – Moore, Jess Adair, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Candice Wiggins, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen, Monica Wright and Rebekkah Brunson – made the trip, along with head coach Cheryl Reeve, assistants Jim Petersen and Shelley Patterson, executive vice president Roger Griffith and several other members of the organization. In addition to the ceremony with Obama, the team got a guided tour of the White House after the ceremony and was able to visit with Sen. Al Franken.
It's been nearly a year since their championship, but as far as they're concerned, the visit comes better late than never. It's no matter that they'll now catch a cross-country flight to Los Angeles before Thursday's game against the Sparks. A trip like this one is well worth any jet lag they might incur.
Some members of the Lynx were more familiar with the White House than others. Moore has been there before, and Brunson attended college at Georgetown in Washington D.C. Wiggins was a first-time visitor, and the California native compared the experience to visiting the haunted mansion at Disneyland.
"It's kind of like that kind of thing, the way that lines go in Disneyland, they have it where there's a line outside the house, and then you move toward the house, and then through the house, and then the ride starts," Wiggins said. "It's kind of like that, except on a less playful scale and a more serious scale that represents the history of our country. … But it's like when you're a kid and you're wondering what's going to be around the corner."
Minnesotan Whalen had also never visited before, and she described the opportunity as "a once-in-a-lifetime thing." For these Lynx, that might not be true – they're poised to make another championship run – but still, the visit offered a dose of humility and perspective.
"The White House, it's a very humbling experience every time I've been," Moore said Monday. "You kind of think about your life and you think you have problems, and then you walk into the White House and you're like, these are real problems. They're trying to figure out how to keep the world at peace. It really makes you step back and appreciate our freedoms."
Obama was present at the ceremony, but Wiggins said their time with him was brief. He returned to his office pretty quickly after speaking with the team and wishing the women well, which made Wiggins happy. She knows he has a lot more on his mind than just the Lynx, and it was good to see how hard he was working, she said.
Fittingly, the ceremony on Tuesday went beyond just basketball. Of course that was the focus, especially with Obama and his family being such rabid fans of the sport, but the Lynx were honored for so much more than that. Obama thanked them for their off-court charity work and for being role models for young girls, and Reeve in turn thanked the president for the exposure he's given to women's sports.
It was a brief event, but from the smiles on players' faces, it was no doubt worth it. These women, who play in front of crowds of thousands and stop for autographs daily, were awestruck. When Augustus presented Obama with a personalized No. 11 Lynx jersey, she could do little more than wave at the cameras, even when Obama asked if she had anything to say.
So maybe the Lynx were silent, but Obama's words were enough for fans of the Lynx and even their home state.
"These women have brought glory back to Minnesota," he said.
And maybe, he added, he'll be seeing them back there soon. It was not a ridiculous prediction, not by any means.
Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.