For someone who usually tops the charts when it comes to stylized anecdotes, well-placed rhetoric, and NBA know-how, President Barack Obama (or, at least, an unnamed aide close to the president) sure let a strange one slip recently. Stuck in the middle of an otherwise-fawning New York Times profile, the incumbent prez compared his re-election team to the dominant potential NBA dynasty of the Miami Heat, while sloughing off former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's campaign fortunes as he compared them to … a pretty good and highly sought-after NBA point guard?
Jeremy Lin, in fact. Lin is no LeBron James and company, to be sure, but comparing your rival to a guard with All-Star potential that put together a pretty dominant fortnight of basketball of his own last February? Perhaps the president, as he looks for a foil to dismiss, should be reminded of the presence of Chris Duhon?
Here's the quote, from the Times:
No matter what moves Mr. Romney made, the president said, he and his team were going to cut him off and block him at every turn. "We're the Miami Heat, and he's Jeremy Lin," Mr. Obama said, according to the aide.
It should be pointed out that, by all accounts from the Times piece, Obama was directly referring to Lin's active low point with the New York Knicks last season — a February 23rd loss that saw the second year point guard miss 10 of 11 shots from the field while turning the ball over eight times as Miami romped. If the timing seems a bit odd — Super Tuesday had yet to hit, the Republican primaries were not yet half over — the focus still can be argued away. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had too many skeletons in his particular closet to be considered a lasting candidate, Governors Rick Perry and Senator Rick Santorum too right of center, and Herman Cain allegedly too touchy-feely with the ladies. Romney was the focus, even back then.
In that context, bragging that he and his team had an answer for every feint or move, the comparison works. Lin is a formidable talent, the latest savior on a Knick team that seemed to move through — not unlike a political party as it attempts to ouster a president seeking re-election — various incarnations and permutations just in the course of one season. He's good, we're better; that's apparently the message.
But Jeremy Lin? This isn't a stated principle of policy, just an overheard anecdote relayed some six months later by an anonymous source, but it's still going to rub some the wrong way. Par for the course, if you'll allow another sporting metaphor, for national politicians that spend their entire careers rubbing nearly half a country the wrong way.
Some won't have as much fun with it. Lin is the ultimate underdog, making the cover of Sports Illustrated twice last winter and turning the NBA on its ear with his daring play and giant-slayer approach as he breathed life into what was previously a disappointing at best and moribund at worst Knick season.
Though Romney has made his political hay with the everyman approach (if, even his supports would concede, not the lifestyle); Lin ticks off all the novelty boxes in a wonderful way. He's an Asian-American Harvard graduate (Obama is a Harvard man, himself) who is a practicing and devout Christian that also happened to be nearly cut from the team while bunking on his teammate's couch. Then he won the Eastern conference's Player of the Week award.
(Woulda won it twice, too, if it hadn't a-been for that rotten LeBron James.)
Again, Obama's not on record. He's not referencing George Gipp in a nationally televised speech or calling himself "the Comeback Kid" after a second-place finish. It's an aide, unnamed, relaying an anecdote. An anecdote that, taken in context, isn't that far off. The President respects Mitt Romney's ascension, and is confident in his ability to stave off every move that he makes on his way toward November. Even the most partisan political follower, whether or not you share Obama's optimism in his abilities to lock Romney up Miami Heat-style, can understand that.
And now, with two months to go in the election, we'll be watching as the President attempts — again, Miami Heat-style — to bring the game in the wake of the showy rhetoric.