Note: This piece was first published in February 2012.
Hosting dignitaries and politicos from Italy this week, U.S. president/basketball devotee Barack Obama recently gave an interview to the visiting media as well, naturally taking time to praise Italia’s representatives in the NBA. As self-proclaimed scholar of basketball diplomacy – perhaps the only one on the planet – Enrico Cellini has noticed that Obama’s effusive acclaim for Danilo Gallinari and Marco Belinelli is in fact quite similar to the prez’s gushy quotes on Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur back in 2009…
In a rare interview between an American president and an Italian newspaper, Barack Obama went through a wide variety of topics ranging from the state of the current Euro Crisis, through the turmoil in Syria to the importance of Italian-Americans in US society: “Italy can be proud that its sons and daughters continue to make invaluable contributions to the success of the United States and to our bilateral partnership”.
Of course, Obama didn’t miss the chance to deploy his trademark basketball diplomacy and dropped the following grand finale for the interview: “Of course, I have to add that guys like Danillo Gallinari and Marco Belinelli bring some pretty good game to the NBA, too.”
Really? Eloquent reasoning in anticipation of a bilateral US-Italy meeting culminated by a barbershop-convo type of quote? Take that, bored Italian readers!
As a matter of fact, as scholars of basketball diplomacy (Is there anyone else out there besides me?) must have noted, the sentence is actually a copy-paste from a previous speech. In what must have been the first reference to NBA players by an American president speaking before a foreign parliament (!), Obama received warm applause in 2009 after he mentioned Mehmet Okur and Hedo Turkoglu before the Turkish chamber:
“The ties among our people have deepened as well, and more and more Americans of Turkish origin live and work and succeed within our borders. As a basketball fan, I’ve even noticed that Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur have got some pretty good basketball games…”
Later that year, Obama opened up a two-day meeting in Washington between U.S. and Chinese officials by heralding the importance of the relationship between the two countries. Guess whom he quoted?
“As a new president and also as a basketball fan, I have learned from the words of Yao Ming, who said, ‘No matter whether you are new or an old team member, you need time to adjust to one another.’ Well, through the constructive meetings that we’ve already had, and through this dialogue, I’m confident that we will meet Yao’s standard.”
Italy is a growing market for NBA basketball, and Obama dished a good assist to his cultural ambassador David Stern. But wait: How could he forget Andrea Bargnani, then? Bargnani was averaging big numbers before the injury this year for the Raptors … Oh right, that’s the *Toronto* Raptors. Fugghedaboutit, Mago – Blame Canada!
Enrico Cellini is lifelong basketball fanatic and a long-time sportswriter with a focus on Italy and Spain. He was born among European hoops, was raised watching the NBA, and thinks choosing between American and European basketball is like choosing between one’s mother and father. You can follow him on Twitter or check out his Italian-language blog Hoop Addicted.