Saturday, June 02, 2007

Obama: Idealist With Sharp Elbows

As LeBron James makes a bid for superstardom in the NBA playoffs, it’s hard to resist analogies with Barack Obama, another gifted young man whose skill and instincts are making up for lack of experience in the highest-pressure game of all.

Yesterday’s New York Times, far from resisting, goes all out with the basketball metaphor, describing Obama as a “fiercely competitive” player who “makes up for his deficits with collaboration and strategy,” quoting a teammate: “He’s very good at finding a way to win when he’s playing with people who are supposedly stronger.”

Craig Robinson, Obama’s brother-in-law who coaches at Brown University, observes: “He didn’t know who he was until he found basketball. It was the first time he really met black people.”

But sports metaphors have their limits. In the political arena, sharp elbows, head fakes and high energy are useful in the day-to-day jostling for position, but the game is eventually won or lost by showing qualities of character that aren’t obvious on a hardwood floor.

If basketball is of any value in assessing Obama, it is in the teamwork, in what Bill Bradley now calls the “ethic of connectedness,” individual effort and collective responsibility.

That combination brought former Sen. Bradley’s New York Knicks a championship, and it could help Sen. Obama’s quest for the ultimate prize he wants.

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