Jan. 19, 2009
STANFORD, Calif. -
Spencer McLachlin's most pressing concern about Barack Obama was not whether the President-elect could stop the economic crisis, or get the soldiers out of Iraq, but whether he could block a jumpshot.
On Tuesday, while watching the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, Stanford sophomore volleyball player Spencer McLachlin will have a unique perspective on America's first black president.
They played hoops together.
Spencer made big shots and big hits while winning high school state championships in basketball and volleyball, but he doesn't recall feeling more nervous than when he squared up on Obama.
"My stomach dropped," he said.
During a family vacation on Oahu, Obama conjured up a pickup basketball game among friends and former Punahou School teammates at their old high school gym. McLachlin's father, Chris, coached Obama on a 1979 state-championship team still regarded as one of the best in Hawaii history, and was invited to join.
He brought along his sons Spencer and Parker, a pro golfer.
"We were all home for Christmas, so I naturally included the boys in `a day at the gym,'" said Chris, a Stanford graduate who was a player-coach during the early years of the school's men's volleyball program.
At first Spencer wasn't allowed in. The security was tight. He estimated about 20 Secret Service guards outside, some on the roof, many with large binoculars. Four more were inside.
"You're not on the list," he was told.
With his father's help, and Obama's OK, Spencer got in.
"It was a pretty unreal experience," Spencer said. "It was all at the last minute, totally impromptu."
When introduced, Spencer said Obama made him feel totally at ease.
"I wasn't nervous at all," Spencer said. "He definitely did not seem larger than life. He was so down-to-earth and laid back. My brother said he was more nervous to play golf with Tiger Woods than basketball with Barack."
After waiting through two games on the sidelines, Spencer and Parker finally got on the court. Obama and Parker guarded each other, while Obama slid over to help defensively on Spencer. At one point, the 6-foot-7 Spencer drove to the basket and Obama got out the way.
"No way I'm going to take a charge on a guy that big," Obama muttered.
Meanwhile, a proud father watched from the sidelines.
"Surreal is the only way to describe watching the two boys playing with the Prez," Chris said. "I'm sure they will be sharing that day with their children and grandchildren many decades from now."
"It's definitely something I'm never going to forget," he said.
"I think Spence was mostly in awe of the whole experience," Chris said. "I'm sure he will remember everything that happened that day, especially how genuinely and graciously Barack treated everyone. He took time to take an interest in each person and make them feel like they were the only ones in the room.
"He'll probably also remember how well Barack played. He had a superb all-around game and was one of the best players on the floor.''
And what about that jumpshot? It dropped in the basket, to Spencer's great relief.
Obama may save the free world, but he couldn't stop Spencer McLachlin.
Said Spencer, "I'm just glad it wasn't an air ball."
- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics Media Relations