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How's Obama at hoops? His trash talk is politically correct.

President Obama plays basketball with members of congress and cabinet secretaries Thursday. He likes to push himself so hard that he once destroyed a sneaker in a pickup game.

By Staff writer / October 8, 2009

President Barack Obama walks with aide Reggie Love as they cross the street from their hotel to play basketball in New York, Sept. 21.

Charles Dharapak/AP/FILE

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Washington

President Obama plays basketball Thursday night with an illustrious group of cabinet secretaries and members of Congress. Thirteen Democrats and two Republicans. All men, but who’s counting?

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We’re not sure about the hoop skills of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner or Interior Secretary Ken Salazar or, for that matter, most of the other guys invited (see list below). But we do know there will be at least two genuine athletes on the floor – Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who played professional basketball in Australia after college, and Rep. Heath Shuler (D) of North Carolina, a onetime quarterback in the NFL.

We also know that pickup hoops is part of Mr. Obama’s fitness regimen, and that one of his regular partners on the White House court is Reggie Love, Obama’s personal aide, who played on Duke University’s championship team in 2001 and was later captain.

And who can forget that clutch three-pointer Obama shot during the campaign while visiting US troops in Kuwait? So we know Obama’s got game. But what’s it like to play with him?

Vic Lombardi, a sportscaster at CBS4 TV in Denver, knows. Mr. Lombardi played twice with Obama during the campaign – once before the future POTUS won the nomination, and again on the day Obama delivered his big acceptance speech at Denver’s Invesco Field.

A pick-up game in Denver

The first time, in May 2008, came about by sheer happenstance. Lombardi was at the gym, and there was Obama, so Lombardi introduced himself, he told the Monitor in an interview last spring.

“Hey, listen,” Obama said, “I have members of my staff here, five or six guys, we wanna play full court, you go find a few guys.”

So, Lombardi says, “I went back up to the weight room, told four or five guys, ‘Hey, Barack Obama’s downstairs, you wanna play basketball?’ Most of them looked at me like I was an alien. But I managed to get four to five guys down there, and we proceeded to play ball for a good hour, hour and a half.”

“It was pretty cool,” says Lombardi. “He covered me, I covered him. I was watching him the entire night. He plays really hard, played smart.”

Apparently Obama plays hard enough to destroy a sneaker. Lombardi says in the third game of the night, Obama was running down the court, and it looked as if his shoe was coming apart. “It got a little dangerous out there, so he backed out and said, ‘I’m just watching from here on out.’ ”

Politically correct trash talking

Is it true that Obama likes to talk trash out there on the court?

“Not the kind of trash-talking I’m used to hearing, trust me,” says Lombardi. “This is what you call politically correct trash-talking.”

“Most of the talking he did was to his own teammates. Very rarely in pickup basketball do you see a guy gather up his teammates before or after a game, huddle ‘em up and give instructions. It just doesn’t happen, but he was doing that. He was showing the natural leadership role. After we beat him the first game, he got his guys together, and said, ‘Here’s what we need to do …’"