The WNBA’s number-one fan is leaving the White House later this week after an historic eight-year presidency. President Barack Obama was perhaps the first U.S. president who treated the WNBA no differently than other pro leagues and was often seen at games as a fan, and not for political or publicity purposes. This may not rank as high as his other accomplishments while in office, but it is no less significant.
The Minnesota Lynx thrice visited the White House after their championship seasons during Obama’s eight year run. “These women are not just all-star basketball players, they’re also leaders in the Minneapolis community,” said the president last spring. “These women, and women across the WNBA, are setting their own outstanding example for girls who are growing up today.”
Perhaps because Obama is a married father of two daughters, or because he clearly appreciates women athletes, regularly hosting the women’s teams in the East Room or the Rose Garden was an honor for him as well as the visitors.
“He’s a big fan” of the W, stated Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen of President Obama. “He talks a lot about our team and teamwork and leadership. It was a lot of fun getting to know him throughout the years. He’s real cool, too.”
The tradition of sports teams visiting the White House dates back to 1865. Obama continued a tradition that started with George W. Bush of honoring NCAA Division I championship teams each year. The Gophers women’s hockey team was so honored in 2014 after their perfect 2012-13 championship season.
“It’s always a pleasure to go back there,” noted Lynx teammate Seimone Augustus. “It means that you won the [W title] the year before.
“Being the first African American president in history means a lot, and we’ve had the chance to [see him],” continued Augustus. “Some people never will get a chance to experience that. It’s a special moment.”
Whalen told the MSR about her brief banter with the outgoing president during last year’s White House ceremony, when she asked “if there was a way we could get some legislation passed for four more years.” He replied, “You’d have to negotiate with Michelle [Obama].”
“The first time [in 2011], I was super nervous because it’s the president,” recalled Whalen, usually a serious person in public. “This time…I tried to do a little me on the lighter side but also with a good message. He joked back a little and felt real comfortable. I was very appreciative of him.”
Whether the incoming president will continue Obama’s annual recognition of WNBA champions at the White House is not yet known, especially given his reportedly dismissive behavior toward females. If not, then the soon-to-be former president will have nevertheless left a lasting impression on the Lynx players and a historical footnote as the last W championship team to be honored at the White House.
“[Obama, for] making me feel comfortable, I will always be thankful,” said Whalen. “It makes me look back at it very fondly.”
Globe-tracking the Lynx
In last week’s action, Sylvia Fowles (China) had a 22-point night in a win for Beijing. Keisha Hampton (Israel) averaged 20 points in a 1-1 week, including 19 points and eight boards in an Israeli Cup quarterfinals game. Natasha Howard (South Korea) played with the Blue Team in the WKBL All-Star Game.
Information from WNBA.com, ESPN.com and White House.gov was used in this report.
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.