Obama is simply not a good athlete. He sucks at golf, throws a baseball like a bitch, can’t bowl, and looks like an idiot in the gym. What makes anyone think the spaz can play basketball? Fortunately we have proof that he sucks at hoop, too.
So why would his H.S. jersey be described like this?
“…a strong argument could be made that this auction lot represents the most important basketball jersey that exists.”
One could say that about any of teenage Obama’s possessions.
“… a strong argument could be made that this auction lot represents the most important pair of tube socks that exists.”
1978-79 President Barack Obama Game Worn Punahou (HI) High School Basketball Jersey.
When considering the childhood of great men, there is a natural tendency toward armchair psychology. The urge becomes stronger when the man is such an anomaly in his field of endeavor, when his path to greatness was not only fundamentally different than those who had arrived before him, but also laid bare the hopeful truth that such an uncommon itinerary to that destination is indeed possible.
As the Jackie Robinson of the biggest game there is, leadership of the free world, Barack Obama still remains, in the eyes of millions, the most important man now living on Earth. With the looming 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival on our shores, we will be able to report that just two percent of our New World executive leadership broke from a single racial theme. But while this singular distinction is undeniably a matter of great historical import, it’s also an oversimplification to reduce Barack Obama to the role of racial pioneer alone.
As the son of a globetrotting single mother, Obama brought a unique perspective to the Oval Office born of his experiences within diverse cultures. Yet despite spending his formative years separated from the American mainland by wide expanses of the Pacific Ocean, Barack Obama still found himself to be a member of that most thoroughly American demographic-a black kid who loved basketball.
It has been an enduring love, and while Father Time has redirected Obama to “the inevitability of golf,” he remains the only American president to have participated in a team sport while serving in the White House. By all accounts, those contests were no casual affairs, with all the trash-talking and elbow-throwing of the average American playground. Earlier this year it was announced that Obama will be working in tandem with the National Basketball Association to develop a twelve-team league in Africa, a project certain to pay huge dividends to the future game, but also a means to increase prosperity throughout the continent with the multitude of off-court opportunities such a league would provide.
“I’ve always loved basketball because it’s about building a team that’s equal to more than the sum of its parts. Glad to see this expansion into Africa because for a rising continent, this can be about a lot more than what happens on the court,” Obama tweeted.
We see echoes of Obama’s worldview in that statement, the fundamental belief that our country and the world are strengthened by alliances, by cooperation, by hearts that beat with an empathetic pulse.
How much of this mindset is attributable to the lessons learned in the gymnasium at Punahou High School? There’s no way to quantify. But, to the degree that a white cataloger could presume to speak to what the sport of basketball has meant to the African-American experience of the past half-century, this is far more than a simple article of sports memorabilia. The offered jersey survives as a symbol of the “audacity of hope” that one of those kids on one of those playgrounds, hooping it up with his buddies, could indeed become the most powerful man on the planet.
In that regard–taking a view wider than simple athletic greatness–a strong argument could be made that this auction lot represents the most important basketball jersey that exists. It was worn by an eighteen-year-old Barry Obama during his senior year at Punahou as a member of the 1979 Hawaii State Champion boy’s varsity basketball team. It was fortuitously rescued from being discarded when the new varsity jerseys arrived on campus only because our consignor Peter Noble, three years behind Obama at Punahou, had worn the same number “23” jersey while on the junior varsity team. We can see the multiple years of wear in the softness of the tackle twill identifiers and the “Rawlings [size] 40” label at lower right front tail, and even a scattering of small stains consistent with blood, perhaps Obama’s. A patched repair at lower front left likewise documents the long, rough-and-tumble history of the historic garment.
We have Mr. Noble’s yearbook from Obama’s senior year, his quarter-page personal layout in the section dedicated to the graduating class including a playground shot of the future President he labeled, “We go play hoop.” But the key point of interest within this volume is on page 104, a photo captioned, “Barry Obama goes up for a basket against St. Louis.” The jersey he wears in that photograph is the offered lot.
The design is simple but unmistakable, every detail a perfect match to that image. Certainly one can’t help but find intrigue in the jersey number, digits worn to global acclaim by the two men most commonly identified as the greatest basketball players of all time-Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
And here we find Obama as the exception that proves the most important rule, and that serves as the strongest defense of this piece as one of the most important items that Heritage has had the privilege to present to the collecting community. It’s the lesson that LeBron James, one of the great men of American sports, ensures that each of the students fully understands at his “I Promise School” in his old hometown of Akron, Ohio.
Play the sport for the love, but recognize that it is highly unlikely that it will ever be your career. That touch of the basketball gods is a lightning strike, a lottery win. But if you learn from the game to always do your best, to work for the good of the team, to share a common goal with those who might be different from yourself in every way, the odds are pretty strong that you’ll find success with whatever authentic talent you do have, and that you’ll make the world a better place as you do.
This lot will be accompanied by a letter of provenance from Peter Noble and his 1979 Punahou High School yearbook.