As a somewhat famous world leader, President Barack Obama is the recipient of a yearly series of over-the-top gifts and baubles from other world leaders. As has been the case for every president in history (save for Harding, probably), Obama is on the receiving end of honorariums presented in order to ably showcase the better features of the country the giving world leader represents.
This was why, in 2011, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave Obama a … signed basketball from the 2010-11 Toronto Raptors? The best of what Canada has to offer? Alongside a gold-framed map of North America from the 1800s, this was the president’s bounty. From the Globe and Mail’s Tu Thanh Ha:
And since Mr. Obama is known as a Chicago Bulls fans, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered him a basketball, signed by the 2010–2011 Toronto Raptors.
The ball was presented in a plastic display case, inside a green leather-bound box with Mr. Harper’s seal on the top.
That wasn’t the only sports-related gift the president took in, as France and Germany combined to offer Obama more than $9,000 worth of golf-related apparel. And it certainly wasn’t the weirdest gift, as former French president Nicolas Sarkozy (amongst his over $40,000 worth of gifts) gave Obama what the Globe and Mail is calling a “tall Plexiglas sculpture, entitled Wrapping Flag Candy USA, depicting an upright Tootsie Roll with an American flag patterned wrapper.”
Still, a signed basketball from the 22-win 2010-11 Raptors is a Tootsie Roll of a ball in an NBA bag littered with full-sized Snickers bars.
The Jay Triano-coached team was Canadian through and through, and the sitting American president does love the sport of basketball, but this was an Andrea Bargnani-led outfit that was left spiraling toward the lottery after losing Chris Bosh as a free agent in the months before the season started. That team included a soon-to-be-retiring Peja Stojakovic, Sonny Weems, and both Jerryd Bayless and Jarrett Jack (just in case you weren’t confused enough, between those two).
In a weirdly fitting tribute to the litany of international gifts Obama took in during 2011, eight of the team’s players in 2010-11 were from outside of North America. Of course, that might be just coincidental, as a whopping 22 players pulled on a Raptors uniform that year. Perhaps word got out, and a series of NBA players swarmed on Toronto for a chance to have their name on Obama’s big gift.
According to the Globe and Mail, though, Obama unsurprisingly relegated the prize to a location away from the White House:
The Hermes golf bag and the Raptors basketball, along with the other listed presents, were handed over to the U.S. National Archives, while some artwork was loaned to a museum.
I can only imagine the puzzled look on the historian’s face, some decades from now, as he or she works his way through the National Archives — only to happen upon a leather-bound box with a plastic case inside protecting a basketball signed by James Johnson. Perhaps the historian will then be made aware of James Johnson’s notorious past as a ninja expert, and think of this as some major national security breakthrough.
Or perhaps the historian will laugh it off, as we are now.