He may have had the world’s most important job for eight years, but Barack Obama always had time for basketball, whether it was filling out brackets for the NCAA Tournament or shooting hoops on a bucket rigged up on the White House tennis court. In post-presidential life, he even chimed in about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in ESPN’s The Last Dance documentary.
The love of the sport dates back to his younger days, and we are reminded of that this weekend.
Barack Obama played high school basketball in Hawaii
Others have worn No. 23 more famously than Barack Obama – Michael Jordan and LeBron James certainly come to mind – but none of them went on to serve as president of the United States.
Obama wore that number in the late 1970s as a varsity basketball player at Punahou High School in southeastern Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands. Schoolmates knew him as Barry, and he was more of a leader than a player back then.
“I always knew he would do something, of course we never expected he’d be in the White House,” teammate Greg Orme told NBC News in 2017 as Obama prepared to leave after eight years in office. “He was always very focused.”
Before winning the land’s highest office in 2008, Obama told Sports Illustrated that basketball played a role in shaping his future.
“Basketball was a refuge, a place where I made a lot of my closest friends and picked up a lot of my sense of competition and fair play,” he said. “It was very important to me all the way through my teenage years.”
The statistics from those varsity games have long-since disappeared, but the memories live on. Obama may have held executive power to grant pardons as president, but he couldn’t erase old nicknames. Teammates tagged their friend as “Barry O’Bomber” for his penchant for taking low-percentage shots.
Barack Obama’s jersey fetches a record price
The sports memorabilia business has been on fire in recent years. The cards category alone this year has seen a 2009 Mike Trout baseball card go for $3.84 million, a 2013-14 Giannis Antetokounmpo basketball card fetch $1.86 million, and three LeBron James cards from the 2003-04 season sell for between $540,000 and $1.8 million, ESPN reported.
In the area of jerseys and other memorabilia, the death of Kobe Bryant and ESPN’s airing of The Last Dance, the documentary about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, contributed to an insatiable appetite by collectors and speculators.
A single auction at Goldin Auctions in July saw $11.3 million in sales, with pinball-machine numbers including:
- $369,000 for game-used and autographed Jordan sneakers from his rookie season in the NBA.
- $162,360 for Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers NBA championship ring from 2000.
- $31,980 for an official basketball autographed by Pete Maravich.
And that’s on top of dozens of other auctions and sales that have featured Babe Ruth jerseys go for seven-figure sums, etc.
Last week, Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills, California, put Barack Obama’s high school basketball jersey from his senior season up for bids. The results did not disappoint. CNN reported the winning figure was $192,000, breaking a record for high school jerseys. The old mark was $187,500 in 2019 for LeBron James’ jersey from his high school days in Ohio.
More winning bids from the Julien’s Auctions lots
Besides Barack Obama’s high school jersey, the latest sale at Julien’s Auctions included items associated with high-profile athletes.
The rookie jersey that Michael Jordan held up at the press conference announcing his signing by the Chicago Bulls sold for $320,000. It was $32,000 more than anyone had paid previously for one of his jerseys.
In football, Colin Kaepernick’s rookie jersey with the 2011 San Francisco 49ers sold for $128,000, an auction record for an NFL jersey, the auction house said. Jerseys worn by Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas shared the previous mark of $118,230.