It’s been more than 25 years since the Louisville Cardinals’ men basketball team visisted the White House. But on Tuesday, when the team finally returned to celebrate its winning season, they were greeted by a genuine basketball fanatic who just happens to be president of the United States.
President Barack Obama took a break from talking about hefty topics like the economic downturn and an immigration overhaul Tuesday to welcome the NCAA champions to the White House to celebrate the team’s success on and off the court.
“We’re here to celebrate a Louisville team that always played hard, that always worked together, that stayed focused on one singular goal -- to bust my bracket,” joked Obama, standing behind the team, clad mostly in dark suits and red ties.
Obama, a Chicago Bulls fan that plays basketball when he can, releases his NCAA bracket every spring. This year, he picked Louisville and Indiana to play in the championship game but had predicted the Hoosiers would win the champion.
“This year I was close,” he said to laughter. “I had the Cardinals in the title game but I discounted the motivational power of making your 60-year-old coach get a tattoo.”
The brief ceremony in the East Room, adorned with gold-colored curtains and chairs, was attended by lawmakers, Kentuckians and fans. Seated in the front row were Kentucky Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul. Obama even singled out his foe, McConnell, a proud alum of the school who frequently attends games.
Obama has continued a modern tradition going back to at least President Gerald R. Ford of inviting college championship teams to the White House. The Cardinals won previous championships in 1986 and 1980, appearing alongside Presidents Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter those years.
Obama praised the team for not only for winning 35 games last season, but for earning a 3.3. grade point average, organizing a beard-shaving event to raised money fo rthe Ameroican Cancer Society and meeting with wounded veterans.
“I want to thank everyody with the Cardinals organization for their outsnading performances, their leadership and contribution not just to Louisville, not just to Kentucky but the entire country,” he said.
Obama singled our several teammates, incuding Kevin Ware, who garnered national headlines when he broke his right leg in a game against Duke, and Rick Pitino, the first coach in history to win championships at different schools.
Pitino, who stood besides Obama as he spoke, presented the president with a red Louisville slugger baseball bat, which he joked Obama could use at news conferences, and a No. 1 jersey.
“This team is the perfect example of what a team is all about. They suffer together. They cry together,” he said. “We are just really proud of what Louisville represents.”
The Cardinals toured the U.S. Capitol and visited with McConnell.
"We got a chance today to cap of a great season with a visit to the White House and meet a president...that is very much loved," he said. "If Michelle was here, they’d be off the walls.”
Obama said the team might have a chance: “From what I have seen of the pre-season polls, we might see you back here at some point.”