WASHINGTON (CNN) – When President-elect Barack Obama announced Arne Duncan as his choice to be Education secretary this week, he referenced Duncan’s career as a professional basketball player in Australia.
“I think we are putting together the best basketball-playing cabinet in American history,” Obama said.
And he might be right.
The president-elect is surrounding himself with advisors who might come from different backgrounds but share a common bond: basketball. This should not be much of a surprise seeing it is well known that Obama enjoys picking up a basketball and running the court.
So far, roughly a quarter of Obama’s cabinet choices have a history in the sport:
–Retired Marine Gen. James Jones, Obama’s designee for national security adviser, played for Georgetown University;
–Dr. Susan Rice, Obama’s choice for U.N. Ambassador played in high school;
–Eric Holder, Obama’s designee for attorney general, played in high school;
–And, of course, Duncan played professionally in Australia
Duncan is also part of a small group of players who have been running the floor with Obama for years. That group includes: Dr. Eric Whitaker of the University of Chicago Medical Center; John W. Rogers, Jr.; a Chicago investment portfolio manager; and Reggie Love, a member of Obama’s staff who is the president-elect’s personal aide otherwise known as a “body man” in political terms.
With so many potential stars on his team, will Obama have any trouble coaching his coterie of players?
Maybe it’s best to ask an expert, like Georgetown coach John Thompson III.
Thompson said that when you are putting together a team your goal is to try “to put talented people around you and then let them do their job.”
The Georgetown coach emphasized that while there was no comparison between his job coaching college players and Obama’s task as president, there are some small similarities in that you are always looking to assemble people of different strengths and varied abilities and talents.
“Once you bring the pieces together, it’s a matter of making it clear that there’s a common goal we’re trying to achieve,” Thompson said.
For Obama, he faces the challenge of being the head coach and the star, and ultimately it is the job of his cabinet to support him and his policies rather than try to be star players themselves.
“At the end of the day, he is our leader,” said Thompson.
Instead of the almost-cliqued “team of rivals” concept that Obama himself frequently references, Thompson suggested another way of thinking about the team Obama is pulling together.
“It’s more like he’s putting together his assistant coaches and his staff, not necessarily his players,” Thompson said.