Obama to congratulate Heat during D.C. trip
MIAMI— The Miami Heat already are working on their game plan for Monday's visit to the White House.
This time, they will put air in the ball.
On their White House visit in March 2007 for winning the 2006-07 championship, the Heat presented then President George W. Bush with a jersey and an autographed ball. He tried to bounce the ball, but it hit the floor with a thud and didn't come back up.
"It was an autographed ball," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, then a Miami assistant. "It wasn't a real ball. We'll make sure we have a real ball. There wasn't enough air in it (before). When (Bush) bounced it, it was like bouncing a bag of sand."
Fortunately for the Heat, winning another title last June has given them another chance to practice their skills in Washington. The White House made it official Wednesday that the Heat will meet with President Barack Obama on Monday.
Actually, several Heat players are now old hands at visiting the White House. Beginning with the invitation six years ago, at least six have been there.
Guard Dwyane Wade and forward Udonis Haslem both remain the from the 2006 title team. Wade also visited Obama at the White House for a Father's Day event in June 2009 and was among a number of NBA players who ran with Obama in pickup games in August 2010.
Wade's 2010 visit also featured Heat forwards LeBron James and Shane Battier, the latter then with Houston. Battier also visited with Bush following winning the 2001 national title with Duke.
Heat guard Mario Chalmers saw Bush following Kansas' 2008 NCAA title. And guard Ray Allen visited the White House to see Bush after Boston's 2008 NBA title.
"It's special any time you get invited to the White House, especially when you go as champions," Wade said. "It gets no better than that. It will be a great moment for the organization and individually for a lot of us."
Some of Wade's best memories of seeing Obama came from the 2010 pickup games, which were played at a gym inside Washington's Fort McNair and followed by a barbecue at the White House to celebrate the President's 49th birthday. Other NBA players invited included Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Grant Hill, Chauncey Billups and David West as well as retired stars Bill Russell and Magic Johnson.
"He's very personable," Wade said of Obama. "He makes everybody feel like you've known him for a while."
Wade and Battier were on Obama's team for the games. Wade said Obama is a point guard who "can hit the open shots" and is "kind of a smooth player." But he didn't butter him up too much.
"A lot of high school guys I played with probably," Wade said when asked to compare Obama to another player.
Wade and Battier lost the first two games they played with Obama. But they didn't leave winless.
"We lost the first two and he said, ‘We're not losing three. It's my birthday,"' Battier said. "He wouldn't let us lose the last game. He actually hit the last shot (to win it)."
Battier is the only Heat player to have visit with two presidents at the White House. He still laughs when recalling meeting Bush.
"W reminded me of a cool uncle. He was cool. He gave me some dap," said Battier, referring to a hip handshake. "He said Shane, it's good to me to meet you.' (Battier thought to himself), ‘All right, the President's got some flavor. He gave me dap."'
But perhaps the best greeting a Heat player has gotten from a president came when Obama spoke at Cleveland State two years ago, when guard Norris Cole was as senior for the Vikings. Obama was impressed by Cole's high-top fade haircut.
"He recognized me because of my hair. He shook my hand and said ‘Kid ‘n Play,"' Cole said about being singled out from his front-row seat and referring to the musical group from the 1990s.
Cole is looking forward to seeing Obama again. Chalmers said meeting Obama is the "main thing" that excites him about his second White House visit.
"We won't hold it against him that he's a Bulls fan," Spoelstra said of Obama, who follows the NBA closely. "But everybody (on the Heat), including the staff, we'll bring our shoes just in case we play a pickup game."
The Heat also will make sure somebody pumps up the ball they bring.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson