First lady Michelle Obama, from left, President Barack Obama, and daughter Malia Obama react as they watch Team USA and Brazil during the first half of an Olympic exhibition basketball game Monday.
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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama basked in the glow of the Olympics on Monday, getting a courtside look at LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and other members of USA Basketball.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden took their seats to chants of “U-S-A” at a U.S. men’s Olympic basketball exhibition game against Brazil as the loudspeakers blared Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” images that any president running for re-election would relish.
“Obviously the talent that we’ve got at this point is unbelievable,” Obama said during a halftime interview on ESPN2. “So there’s no reason that we shouldn’t bring home the gold. We just have to stay focused.”
Obama is an avid basketball fan and the tune-up games before the start of the London Olympics allowed him to wrap himself in the Olympic spirit four months before Election Day. His Republican rival, Mitt Romney, is expected to use the Olympics to highlight his leadership role during the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
Romney, who helped turn around the Salt Lake City Games after they became caught up in a bribery scandal, plans to be in London for the opening ceremonies next week. First lady Michelle Obama will lead the U.S. delegation to the opening ceremonies.
Monday night gave Obama a chance to soak in his favorite sport. The U.S. rallied from an early 10-point deficit to beat Brazil 80-69.
After a quick ride to the Verizon Center from the White House, Obama greeted members of the U.S. women’s basketball team on a practice court after their win over Brazil in the first game.
“We could not be prouder,” Obama said after hugging Tamika Catchings, Diana Taurasi and other members of the women’s team. The women’s team presented Obama with a red No. 1 USA jersey and a signed basketball.
Obama, dressed in a blue jacket and jeans, then walked out before a roaring crowd, shook hands with fans and sat down next to former aide Reggie Love, who played basketball for Duke University.
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama even appeared on “Kiss Cam,” the in-house video that spotlights kissing couples during a game break. The Obamas wouldn’t oblige during the first half, despite roars and some boos from the crowd. But in the fourth quarter, “Kiss Cam” peered back on the first couple and the president was ready: He put his arm around his wife and planted a big kiss on the first lady as the crowd roared.
Some members of the men’s team are Obama supporters. A handful of Olympic team members, including Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, had agreed to participate in a basketball game fundraiser for Obama’s campaign last December but the event was canceled because of the resolution of the NBA lockout. The fundraising game has not been rescheduled.
Obama’s campaign held a fundraiser last February at the Orlando-area home of Vince Carter of the Dallas Mavericks. Attendees included Paul, who plays point guard for the Los Angeles Clippers, NBA commissioner David Stern and former NBA stars Magic Johnson and Alonzo Mourning.
Basketball has been a longtime passion of Obama’s. He played high school basketball in Hawaii and likes to play pickup basketball with friends. He helps coach his daughter Sasha’s youth team and keeps close tabs on his hometown Chicago Bulls.
During Veterans Day last year, he was courtside for a game between Michigan State and North Carolina on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson off the coast of San Diego. In March, Obama invited British Prime Minister David Cameron to an opening round game of the NCAA tournament in Ohio.
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