Reggie Love Interview: What He Learned About Politics From Duke Basketball, How He Guards Barack, and the Next Generation of Jocks

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Reggie Love is Barack Obama’s right hand man: curator of his iPod, carrier of his hand sanitizer and disposer of unwanted brewskis. It’s a job he prepared for by playing for playing football and basketball at Duke — a team he was a walk-on for. I managed to catch him on the phone this morning, and now, thanks to the magic of transcription, you can read what we talked about. It was mostly — almost entirely — about basketball.

Maybe Jay can interview him about football someday. You can listen to the whole thing here.

A soon-to-be classic exchange:

AMC: If the McCain campaign was a basketball team, what basketball team would they be? And I think maybe Pistons, you know, for the aggressive play and all the sharp elbows, but my husband has also suggested the Princeton defense offense – do you have an opinion?

RL: Well, I think you may be referring to the Pistons of the 80s and early 90s….

AMC: Yes, I am referring to the Pistons of the 80s and early 90s. The sort of classic Pistons, and he’s referring to the classic Princeton defensive game. Do you have an opinion about that?

RL: If you had to say that McCain was a basketball team, and which basketball team would he most be like?

AMC: Ya, sort of the attitude they bring or the style of play they, you know, have.

RL: Well, I don’t want to insult any of the teams…

AMC: By comparing them to McCain?

Reggie wrote later to clarify exactly why he was hesitant: “I don’t want to insult any of the NBA teams, I have a lot of teammates and friends who still play in the NBA.”

The whole thing is after the jump.

[My questions have been slightly edited so that I sound less like an idiot.]

AMC: Do you think it’s a generational thing that Obama prefers basketball to other sports. Like, the presidential sport of record has been golf, right? You know, that is not how Obama spends his time. Do you think there’s something to that?

RL: Ana Marie, have you ever played golf?

AMC: I have never played golf, I have played basketball.

RL: I think that probably…. I would say that as you’re growing up as I kid, there’s a couple sports… I imagine it has something to do with the fact that golf is a very cost-intensive sport to play if you’re young. A set of clubs cost somewhere between $600 to $1000. You probably didn’t just go play golf.

AMC: It is hard to sort-of have a pickup game of golf. I’m sure you’ve gotten this question before, but I’m going to ask anyway. What about your basketball career prepared you for this particular job?

RL: Well, I think especially playing basketball at Duke, you get a sense of being a part of something that is a lot greater than you and it allows you to take pride in doing that – though they may not be the most glamorous things – they all play a part.

AMC: But you were kind of a superstar at Duke, weren’t you?

RL: You know, I wasn’t a superstar, the thing about Duke is that the program – they have about 28 to 30 nationally televised games a year, so in that sense, you get seen a lot. But not because of me as an individual, but because of Coach K and the program, and the fact that we play well together as a team. You know we’re always in the top 10, year in and year out, we’re one of the top teams in the ACC, so you end up getting a lot of coverage. Not because I was a superstar.

AMC: Right, there was a difference. So you think that sort of mindset is something you think has been helpful to you coming into the campaign?

RL: That and you know, it helps build adversity and it puts a lot in perspective, when you wake up and you’re really tired. But your feet and knees and ankles aren’t hurting.

AMC: If the McCain campaign was a basketball team, what basketball team would they be? And I think maybe Pistons, you know, for the aggressive play and all the sharp elbows, but my husband has also suggested the Princeton defense offense – do you have an opinion?

RL: Well, I think you may be referring to the Pistons of the 80s and early 90s….

AMC: Yes, I am referring to the Pistons of the 80s and early 90s. The sort of classic Pistons, and he’s referring to the classic Princeton defensive game. Do you have an opinion about that?

RL: If you had to say that McCain was a basketball team, and which basketball team would he most be like?

AMC: Ya, sort of the attitude they bring or the style of play they, you know, have.

RL: Well, I don’t want to insult any of the teams…

AMC: By comparing them to McCain?

[Reggie wrote later to clarify exactly why he was hesitant: “I don’t want to insult any of the NBA teams, I have a lot of teammates and friends who still play in the NBA.”]

AMC: What about Obama? If he was a basketball team? If team Obama was a basketball team – which you are basically. But which style of play would you say you are. The golden era Chicago Bulls was a suggestion from the peanut gallery.

RL: I don’t think that we’re the golden era Bulls because Michael was so establish by the time he got to his third and fourth ring. I would say that the senator has a work ethic similar to Michael Jordan, but I don’t know that I would say that he would be — I don’t think he’s the equivalent in the political world of Michael Jordan.

AMC: Which do you think is a rougher sport, basketball or politics.

RL: Oh, politics is definitely a rougher sport, a rougher sport on the psyche.

AMC: Right, you were saying your feet and knees don’t hurt, but everything else does?

RL: Everything else does. Mentally, I’m beat up man.

AMC: When people are attacking the senator, does that feel personal to you?

RL: You’re definitely a part of this organization and a part of the team, and the senator is always making a case of why he’s the best candidate to lead our country. Everyone on the makes the case for him. I think we all believe him and we all think he’s going to be the next president of the United States, and anytime someone comes across and article, or we hear something on TV, or the radio, and for some reason someone is saying the opposite, you know, your first reaction is to try to beat it back.

AMC: That’s another one of the things when you feel the mental discipline of playing sports yourself kind of helps?

RL: It definitely helps, with just trying to be consistent and getting your message out, and making sure you’re showing up everyday and ready to go. It’s very helpful when you can say: ‘Hey man, we’ve got just 70 days of hard work and pushing through, when the smoke clears…

AMC: It’ll be over…

RL: You’ll be able to look yourself in the mirror, like, hey man, I gave it all I got, regardless of what the results are.

AMC: That’s an interesting parallel. I know you play with the senator a lot. How does that affect your relationship with him?

RL: When we play, and he’s winning, it puts a strain on it for me.

AMC: Does he win a lot? What’s the percentage win so far?

It’s about 50-50.

AMC: Really, he’s that good?

RL: We don’t play one-on-one, but sometimes we’ll play like… in Iowa, we had a 3-on-3 series going on of myself, [Robert Gibbs] and [David] Axlerod, versus Barack, Marvin [another one of the senator’s aide, who is also ginormous.] and Rick Seiger, who is now national trip director for vice presidential candidate Joe Biden.

AMC: And how did that series turn out?

RL: Well, the went up in the series, they went up in the series, they were up 2-0 when the series started, and we played best of 5, and we played the first two games, and then probably three or four weeks went by before we played the next, the next three games, which we won. But the interim between the first two and the second three games… man, it was tough, man.

AMC: How do you defend against Barack?

RL: Me personally, I would probably play off him a little bit, because he’s pretty quick, since I’ve got a little bit of a reach and height advantage on him. I would give him a couple feet and then make him take a shot

AMC: Do you think his daughter’s might’ve inherited his basketball skills? Do you think they’re going to grow up and be like, tall, awesome basketball players?

RL: Well, they’re definitely going to be tall.

AMC: Yeah, they’re definitely going to be tall. But do you think they’re going to inherit their dad’s or their uncle’s skills?

RL: I hear Sasha’s is a really amazing soccer player.

AMC: Well, there’s always hope she’ll switch to basketball. Ok, one last question, and I’m totally serious, how much sucking up happens when reporters play with Barack?

RL: Well, you should ask Dan [Balz], from the Washington Post or Richard Wolfe from Newsweek… there’s not a lot of sucking up going on.

AMC: You think they play their hardest?

RL: Those guys definitely play their hardest. It’s just that… well…lemme say they were not the sharpest knives in the drawer. [Reggie also wrote to make sure I made it clear that he just was talking basketball skills, not general mental ability.]

AMC: When you’re playing against him, do you feel like it’s your responsibility to not to let him win – you have to be the best player you can be against him? Or do you play the best you can against him.

RL: I’m 20 years younger than the senator, and physically I’m 10 or 15 years younger than most of his friends. I usually play up to the competition, I don’t feel any pressure to be fantastic or to … to play hard enough to win.

AMC: Well this has really been great talking to you, and I am serious about asking you about the team your team resembles, so think about it. And hopefully we’ll talk to you again some time.

RL: I’m not sure I’m going to have an answer….

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