It was the same team in the White House for the second straight year, but President Barack Obama delivered all-new material in congratulating the Miami Heat on another NBA championship.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and their teammates stood on risers behind the president in the White House’s East Room on Tuesday while Obama celebrated the team’s 2012-13 title with a traditional speech. The team then presented Obama with a team jersey and a replica of the NBA’s Larry O’Brien Trophy, which was signed by the team and listed Obama’s name among the players.
“This group has won twice now, but it’s gone to the Finals three times,” Obama said. “And sometimes it feels like they’re still fighting for a little respect. I can relate to that.”
Obama mentioned the principal players for the Heat one by one, but saved his best jokes for Chris Andersen, the colorful big man with all the tattoos, and Mario Chalmers, whose constant scolding by teammates apparently has turned into a national joke. Obama referred to Andersen by his nickname, “Birdman.”
“Everybody on this team participated,” Obama said. “And from Ray [Allen]’s big shot to the contributions of Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem, Birdman, Birdman’s tattoos — Birdman’s mohawk — the Heat showed us the kind of heart and determination it takes to be a champion.”
For his joke on Chalmers, Obama waited until the end of speech.
“And with that, I think we should take a picture, but we should make it quick before one of these guys starts yelling at Mario,” Obama said. “I mean, sometimes it’s just a bad pass, guys. It’s not Mario’s fault. I got your back, man.”
The East Room was packed with family members and friends of the team as well as plenty of local and national politicians trying to get close to the hottest thing in South Florida. Of course, Obama is a Chicago Bulls fan, so his joke about politicos reaching across the partisan aisle for the Heat was more tongue-in-cheek than a compliment. Nothing brings NBA fans together more than collectively hating the Heat.
“We’ve got some outstanding members of Congress who are big fans of the Heat,” Obama said. “They’re from both parties — because we all know nothing brings people together like the Miami Heat. Across the NBA there’s just a unifying sense about the Heat.”
Team president Pat Riley accompanied the Heat to the White House this year after missing the 2013 trip due to illness. Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra walked into the East Room with Obama, and both Riley and Spoelstra shook Obama’s hand during the ceremony.
Obama acknowledged Spoelstra’s work with NBA Fit, an initiative by the league to promote exercise, and thanked Riley for his commitment to veterans and active members of the military. The Heat’s “Home Strong” program, which began in 2006, pays tribute to U.S. servicewomen and servicemen.
“His incredible admiration for our men and women in uniform, but more concretely his willingness to do something about how we support them, I think is a credit to the entire organization,” Obama said of Riley.
Obama, a basketball fan, talked at length about Allen’s famous three-pointer in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. The shot tied the game in dramatic fashion and sent it into overtime.
“San Antonio had the series all but wrapped up in Game 6,” Obama said. “As you will recall, Miami was down five points, less than 30 seconds to go. The last 122 times that happened in the playoffs, the team that was down lost 122 times.
“And then they brought out the ropes. And then Ray Allen saw them bring out the ropes. And with five seconds left, Chris Bosh gets an incredible offensive rebound, passes it out to Ray; Ray is backing up, he’s got to jump forward; hits one of the most iconic shots of all time.
“And then he added a few choice words about the ropes, which we cannot . . . repeat here.”
Obama then addressed Allen directly.
“But, Ray, I do want you to know that when you say those things on the court, like, people can read your lips, right? You do understand that?”
“Yeah,” Allen said.
“OK,” Obama said. “All right.”
Afterward, Wade told reporters that he and Obama are “associates” and that Obama offered him marriage advice. Wade recently became engaged to actress Gabrielle Union.
Monday night, several players and coaches participated in an after-hours tour of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
Allen, the Heat’s veteran three-point specialist, organized the tour, and it was attended by players Joel Anthony, James Jones, Battier, Roger Mason Jr., James and Haslem as well as Spoelstra, several assistants and support personnel and general manager Andy Elisburg.
The museum's director led the tour. Several exhibits in the museum are emotionally jarring, and a few players were moved to tears, including Haslem.