WASHINGTON — Honoring a second straight NBA title for the Los Angeles Lakers, President Barack Obama on Monday bypassed the traditional White House ceremony. This time he put the champs to work.
The president and the basketball stars joined students at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington in making care packages for wounded soldiers. Obama, a huge basketball fan, wanted this year's ceremony to center on a service project with the Lakers to recognize their accomplishments off the court as well.
After lauding the team as one of the nation's great sports franchises, Obama thanked players and coaches for being generous with their time toward children.
"Every once in a while, they need a little encouragement," Obama said of the students as the team stood behind him. "They need to know that no dream is beyond their reach. So when they see people like the Los Angeles Lakers who are willing to spend time with them, that sends a message to them that they're special."
The Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics to win the championship earlier this year. Obama joked that some of the team's players, like the famous Kobe Bryant and coach Phil Jackson, have been honored at the White House so many times that they are familiar enough with the place to offer tours themselves.
The president was quick to note that Jackson's five championships with the Lakers still don't match the six titles he won with Obama's hometown team, the Chicago Bulls. The president also couldn't resist some good-natured ribbing following the Bulls win over the Lakers Friday.
Obama told Bryant that it looked like Bulls' star Derrick Rose, "may have your number."
The Lakers visited the White House after winning last year's title and also held a basketball clinic for local students.