Minnesota Lynx return to the White House; will they take Obama to the court?

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
President Barack Obama posing with Lynx players during their last visit to the White House on Sept. 18, 2012.

Maya Moore turned 25 yesterday. Think President Obama will have a birthday cake for her at the White House today?

Don’t be surprised if the biggest hoops fan in the land makes mention of Moore’s milestone while honoring the Lynx for their 2013 WNBA championship early this afternoon. The ceremony will be streamed live, starting about 12:45 p.m. Central time, via Whitehouse.gov or Lynxbasketball.com.

Moore has been to the White House so often she might as well have her own parking space and Secret Service code name. (I’m going with “Peach.” Figure it out.) By her count, this will be her sixth visit since Obama took office 2009 — two with the Lynx, two with NCAA championship teams from the University of Connecticut, one with Team USA after Olympic gold in 2012, and one individual event.

“It’s crazy to think how many opportunities I’ve had in the last, shoot, six years, to be able to be part of championship teams that are able to go celebrate at the White House,” Moore said. “It doesn’t get old, though. It’s a humbling experience. 

“It’s exciting. It’s a chance for us to appreciate the people that help us to be able to do what we’re doing here — playing basketball on a professional level as women here in the states. It has a lot to do with people who have worked for this country, far before I even thought about playing basketball. It’s a neat experience to step back and appreciate people who are working for us.” 

On her first trip, in 2009, Moore and her UConn teammates shot around with Obama on the White House court. The Lynx missed out on that two years ago because Obama had to fly to New York City for a Late Show with David Letterman taping and two campaign events. That disappointed Seimone Augustus, the four-time WNBA All-Star who would love to challenge Obama near the three-point line.

“I don’t know if he wants that kind of trouble on his hands,” Augustus said playfully. “We have some sharp shooters on our team. But he’s pretty good, from what I’ve seen on TV and what I’ve heard.

“If he wants to take us to the court, I’m going to make sure to have some sneakers on, or something close to sneakers, so I can get out there and rough him up a little bit.”

Both Augustus and Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve want to meet First Lady Michelle Obama, who wasn’t in town when the Lynx last visited, as well as the Obama girls, Sasha and Malia. Sasha turned 13 on Tuesday.

“I’m hoping we get a chance to spend some time with them,” Reeve said. “More than anything, soak up the moment, enjoy it with each other, and make sure you take a lot of pictures.”

The Western Conference-leading Lynx (8-1) were fortunate the date came early in the season and coincided with a trip east. It didn’t fall that way last time. Reeve remembers this well: The Lynx flew to Washington, D. C. for the September 18, 2012 ceremony, then headed cross-country to Los Angeles to finish the season with three road games in four days. They won only the middle game, in Phoenix. 

This year’s ceremony precedes a Friday night game in Atlanta (5-3), reprising last year’s WNBA final. Brazilian center Erika de Souza is off to the best start of her career for the Dream, averaging 18.5 points with league-leading 67 percent shooting to add a second threat behind two-time league scoring champion Angel McCoughtry (18.0 points). 

“Knowing it’s a finals rematch, I know they’re going to be geeked up about having the chance to play against us,” Augustus said.

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Then the Lynx return home to face Phoenix (6-2) with Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner at noon Sunday.

To stay sharp, the Lynx arranged practice time this morning near the White House at George Washington University, where Reeve used to be an assistant coach.

Practicing in unfamiliar surroundings is nothing new this season. Renovations at Life Time Fitness in the Target Center, site of the Lynx/Timberwolves practice facility, left condensation on the court and forced the Lynx to look elsewhere.

Plan B, Target Center’s main court, isn’t always available due to concerts and other events. The team practiced a few days at Minneapolis Community and Technical College before relocating to the Colin Powell Youth Leadership Center in South Minneapolis, adjacent to Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. The facility’s four courts are lined for high school play, so the Lynx put down strips of blue tape to approximate three-point arcs.

The center isn’t charging the Lynx rent, and the Lynx reciprocate with players and coaches interacting with students after practice. About a dozen pre-teen girls waited out Moore on Tuesday, peering from the lobby through a glass wall as she and Tan White stayed late shooting jumpers. Moore stopped to sign autographs and pose for pictures on her way out.

“Where are we going park? Do we have enough baskets? Is the floor too hard?” Reeve said. “Those are the criteria we kind of looked at being off-site. We just figure it out. As long as you’ve got hoops and a basketball and players, you can have a practice.”

First, though, is this little side trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Even with all Moore’s previous trips, there is one room she hasn’t seen.

“I don’t know for sure, but there’s got to be some sort of movie theatre there,” she said. “I feel like there’s one upstairs somewhere, in one of the wings.”

Good instinct. Here it is.

“If there’s a movie theatre, I’d love to go see it,” she said. “Chill, watch a movie, you know? Hang out.”

Make a nice birthday surprise, don’t ya think? 

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