Jun 082018

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

Named “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated and “Sports Personality of the Century” by BBC, Muhammad Ali (1942-2016), 3-time world heavyweight boxing champion and world statesman, passed away Friday, June 3, 2016 at 74. RIP Champ! As we humbly honor your soul of a Monarch butterfly (as you spoke about to students graduating at Harvard in 1974, wishing people could love one another as much as we loved him) and your sting of a bumble bee (as a conscientious objector) worldwide here on #beBee!

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Muhammad Ali leaves behind four wives he loved and nine children, seven daughters and two sons, he adored, who surrounded him as he passed away Friday night.

Muhammad Ali was gifted at making himself a point of interest by people around the world. He made a sensational show out of a sporting event that for the first time made it permissible for athletes after him to speak out openly on social, education, religious, economic and political issues in life. How his freedom of speech fundamentally shaped his legacy as an athlete-statesman on peace and inclusion is specifically addressed herein.

Watch and listen to the simplicity this side of the complexity of the great mind of The Greatest, Mohammad Ali that eloquently frames his phenomenal statesmanship on peace and inclusion in this remarkable answer to a young lads question on British live television in 1974.

I Float Like A BUTTERFLY and Sting Like A BEE!” For Always & Forever, He’s #TheGreatest #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

Pictured above is his iconic knockdown punch in the first round against then-heavyweight champion Sonny Liston on February 25, 1964 in Miami, Florida. His ultimate victory over Liston here was widely seen as a stunning upset that earned Muhammad Ali (then just a 22 year old Light Heavyweight Boxing 1960 Rome Olympics Gold-Medalist, Cassius Clay) his first world heavyweight boxing title.

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

He was the greatest boxer ever, but his greatest bouts were outside the boxing ring.

A World-Class Athlete Thrusted Into Being A World-Class Statesman on Peace and Inclusion

On March 22, 1967, Ali was stripped of all of his boxing championship titles by the New York State Athletic Commission and all other boxing commissions, and he received a suspension of his boxing license by the state of New York. 

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

Three years after gaining his championship, as a social conscientious objector on April 28, 1967, Muhammad Ali in Houston, Texas three times immediately refused induction into the United States Army and the Vietnam War. Outspoken Ali was publicly tried in a court tribunal, convicted on a felony charge of draft evasion on June 20, 1967, receiving a mandatory sentenced of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He paid a bond and remained free from prison, as his felony conviction was being appealed through appellate court, and eventually to the Supreme Court of the United States. 

Afterwards, Ali was prohibited from securing a boxing license to participate in the sport in any state for the next three years, including having his passport evoked so the world champion boxer could not travel abroad and continue his boxing career and personal livelihood he had been accustomed to at that time.

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

During this time also, as public opinion turned against the Vietnam War in 1967 (in the wake of the federalized 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act), Ali’s appeal to the lower appellate court was denied. A much sought after national and international advocate and spokesman, he spoke on college and university campus across the world, criticizing the Vietnam War and advocating African American pride in civil rights, and the great ideas of equality, racial justice, peace and inclusion.

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

In a stunning decision on June 28, 1971, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned his June 20, 1967 felony conviction of draft evasion and upheld Ali’s conscientious objector exemption on April 28, 1967 in his refusal to enter the armed services and participate in the Vietnam War of which he was publicly protesting against, explosively exclaiming at that time, “No Vietcong ever called me (The N-word),” a constitutional freedom of speech statement that costed Ali dearly at about $40 million over his three years away from boxing, both personally and professionally. Financially broke during this period, one time riding in a car with Joe Frazier the fighter actually lent Ali a couple hundred bucks so he could just feed himself.

He was a man of principle on peace and inclusion, yet remarkably, public opinion was strongly against him. 

Be that as it may, the U.S. Supreme Court saw this by overturning his conviction in an unanimous 8-0 ruling (with Justice Thurgood Marshall electing to abstain from the case).

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

Immediately thrusted into the public eye now as statesman, Muhammad Ali also inspired civil rights peace activist turned anti-war activist, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the 1964 Nobel Peace Laureate, who had been “reluctant to address the Vietnam War for fear of alienating the Johnson Administration and its support of the civil rights agenda.” After Ali’s public profile in courage, “King began to voice his own opposition to the war for the first time,” (quotes courtesy of Wikipedia). 

This subsequently ignited the most explosive period of social violence and unrest ever displayed in American history in the 1968 shooting deaths of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968 just after 6pm ET on that second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

Just a couple months later that year on June 5, 1968 at Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, 1968 democratic U.S. presidential candidate, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy was mortally wounded by gun shoots at 12:15am PT, and later died in Los Angeles Good Samaritan Hospital at 1:44am PT, June 6, 1968.

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

In speaking of the cost on Ali’s career (between his most powerfully athletic ages of 25 to 28) of his refusal to be drafted, his boxing trainer Angelo Dundee said, “One thing must be taken into account when talking about Ali, he was robbed of his best years, his prime years.” (quote courtesy of Wikipedia).

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

Three Epic Boxing Battles of Coronations and Comebacks

Ali is known the world over as #TheGreatest for these iconic boxing exhibitions. First, there was his greatest upset fight against Sonny Liston on February 25, 1964 in Miami, Florida, which he earned a surprising defeat over Liston for his first title as world heavyweight champion. 

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

Later, there were three battles with rival Joe Frazier. The first fight, held at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Monday, March 8, 1971, was dubbed the “Fight of the Century,” mainly because it brought to the global sporting stage two undisputed world heavyweight undefeated boxing champion sports icons, each claiming their legitimate claim to be crowned the single undisputed heavyweight boxing champion. A phenomenal media sensation at the time, this Rocky-like global spectacle sporting event of Olympiad proportions was broadcast to 35 countries around the world.

Underscoring the epic battle in the boxing ring was an ongoing explosive American domestic agenda of social injustice, class warfare, and race. This revealed in particular how blacks and “black-pride” socially, educationally, economically, and politically shaped ourselves as an evolving black community at the dawn of the seventies. Such evolutionary societal change was demanded by blacks just coming off an emotionally-wrenching King-Kennedy dual assassination and its aftermath of brutally destructive riots across the American social fabric in 1968.

Symbolically, Ali portrayed Frazier as a “dumb tool of the white establishment … Frazier is too ugly to be champ,” Ali said. “Frazier is too dumb to be champ.” Ali also frequently insulted Frazier by calling him an Uncle Tom. Dave Wolf, who worked in Frazier’s camp, recalled that, “Ali was saying ‘the only people rooting for Joe Frazier are white people in suits, Alabama sheriffs, and members of the Ku Klux Klan. I’m fighting for the little man in the ghetto.’ Joe was sitting there, smashing his fist into the palm of his hand, saying, ‘What the f**k does he know about the ghetto?'”

After an epic 15-round brutal beating of both Ali and Frazier, Ali lost to Frazier by unanimous decision by the judges, his first professional defeat.

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

It is in fact 45 years ago March 8, 1971 that the sports history-making #MuhammadAli vs. #JoeFrazier bout (shown above) was dubbed “The Fight of the Century” in a 15-round showdown!

Here’s whereupon the rivalry between the iconic boxers began. “Ali’s characterizations of Frazier during the lead-up to the fight cemented a personal animosity towards Ali by Frazier that lasted until Frazier’s death. Frazier and his camp always considered Ali’s words cruel and unfair, far beyond what was necessary to sell tickets. Shortly after the bout, in the studios of ABC’s Wide World of Sports during a nationally televised interview with the two boxers (with iconic Howard Cozell), Frazier rose from his chair and wrestled Ali to the floor after Ali called him ignorant,” according to Wikipedia.

Subsequently, a second Ali-Frazier rematch at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 1974, resulted in an unanimous decision for Ali recapturing his undisputed heavyweight boxing title from Joe Frazier—who had recently lost his undisputed heavyweight boxing belt to a huge younger 1968 Olympian Gold-Medalist “Big George” Foreman.

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

Dubbed as a “Rumble in the Jungle, Ali at 32 years old was considered extremely outmatched by the imposing figure of George Foreman, who was then a much younger opponent than Ali by ten years. After earlier in the year defeating Joe Frazier, Ali went on to defeat George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, on October 30, 1974 in a stunning upset strategy he used in the bout called “Rope-A-Dope.” 

Ali was wildly popular in Zaire, with crowds chanting “Ali, bomaye” (“Ali, kill him”) wherever he went in the African nation, which cemented his iconic global status as a world-class athlete-statesman.

Ali worked the media, like a magician and a poet, as he waved the rhyme and rhythm of his magical prose to English interviewer David Frost, “If you think the world was surprised when Nixon resigned, wait ’til I whup Foreman’s behind!” 

He further crafted his impromptu poetry, like Miles Davis’ jazz improvisatio, across the world media, “I’ve done something new for this fight. I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

The “Rope-A-Dope” strategy was simply a brilliant militarist strategic approach used by Ali inside the formidable Foreman boxing ring. 

Such a strategic approach is when your opponent is angry, irritate them, when you’re physically outmatched, evade them, and when you’re overwhelmingly outgunned, leave them, and live to fight another day.

Ali laid on the ropes, resting much of the match, and tiring the more aggressive Foreman, swinging endlessly at Ali and pounding damaging body blows, but not critical knockout punches to Ali’s “pretty face,” as he oftentimes referenced in the media about himself. Ali simply covered up and counter-punched, landing judges’ point-mounting blows on Foreman—as he also hugged him often to rest and verbally taunt Foreman, messing with his head and actually psyching him out of the bout.

“Is that all you got, George? They told me you could hit,” Ali verbally abused into Foreman’s head in the game.

By an eighth round, Ali had exhausted Foreman with a flurry of blows causing Foreman to stagger to the floor of the center ring, as he couldn’t rise to his feet again when the referee finished his countdown. Against the odds, the “Rumble in the Jungle” was over and Ali had regained his third heavyweight boxing title by knockout.

Reflecting on Ali’s brilliant strategy in the epic battle, George Foreman poignantly and humbly said: “I’ll admit it. Muhammad outthought me and outfought me.”

Ali not only had regained his third world heavyweight boxing championship, but also finally got fully recrowned his previous boxing titles that were stripped seven years before as a result of his 1967 conscientious objector and subsequently overturned felony conviction on draft evasion by the highest legal court in the land. But just as important, Ali favorably captured the global court of public opinion that now saw Ali as a world-class athlete-statesman of peace and inclusion.

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

The following year, Ali agreed to a third rematch bout with rival Joe Frazier in Manila, the capital city of The Philippines. The bout, known as the “Thrilla in Manila”, was held on October 1, 1975 in temperatures approaching 100 °F (38 °C). The intense Southeast Asia heat made the pounding by each of these much older boxing rivals extremely brutal to a point of near death for each of these longstanding stellar athletes. 

Emotionally-wrenching to watch for millions of viewers around the world, the brutal fight, going down the stretch through 14 brutal rounds, as each competitor tore into each other, never succumbing to the other in the name of history, “was eventually stopped, when Frazier’s trainer, Eddie Futch, refused to allow Frazier to answer the bell for the 15th and final round, despite Frazier’s protests. Frazier’s eyes were both swollen shut. Ali, in his corner, winner by a technical knockout (TKO), slumped on his stool, morbidly exhausted,” Wikipedia summarizes.

Ali had retained his third heavyweight boxing championship, a triple-crown title held until he retired. 

Both boxing Titans later required extensive hospitalization, exhibiting the magnitude of the beating each of these rivals gave each other in the “Thrilla in Manila” on October 1, 1975. 

After this bout Ali called Frazier “the greatest fighter of all times, next to me.”

This epic boxing battle of Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier, just two years later had inspired actor Sylvester Stallone to create the groundbreaking dramatic intensity of the boxing scenes in the enormously popular Oscar-winning film, Rocky in 1977, which was not previously achieved in cinematic portrayals of boxing matches in the ring. 

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

Athlete-Statesman Muhammad Ali’s Conscientious Objector Legacy of Peace and Inclusion

So, here we are today reflecting on what a world-class athlete-statesman has left us upon his passing, as we look at ourselves through his mirror – more distrusting of others, and more closeted in our views. 

For Muhammad Ali’s conscientious objector profile in courage to work today, we must allow ourselves in the age demography shift and heightened engagement on rapid-fire digital communication devices to discuss our true feelings and biases, and not be chastised for what we believe.

We must evolve as a society where we can relegate those who harbor views of what can be described as racist, to the commonly viewed and reasonable point of distaste or disdain. 

Yet, along the way on the course to this new destination of societal norms and conventions, Ali’s legacy compels us to ask ourselves what have we done to understand why we feel this way?

Has diversity divided us into divisiveness to mask us away from the real problems in social injustice, equality, racial tension, peace and inclusion we see when we face the nation inside Ali’s mirror?

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

According to Scientific American on September 16, 2014 (later edited October 1, 2014), “The first thing to acknowledge about diversity is that it can be difficult. In the U.S., where the dialogue of inclusion is relatively advanced, even the mention of the word “diversity” can lead to anxiety and conflict. Supreme Court justices disagree on the virtues of diversity and the means for achieving it. Corporations spend billions of dollars to attract and manage diversity both internally and externally, yet they still face discrimination lawsuits, and the leadership ranks of the business world remain predominantly white and male.”

What has a world-class athlete-statesman’s conscientious objector polemic on freedom, diversity and inclusion, accomplished by Muhammad Ali in the late 1960s through the 1970s, that has nowadays truly permeated across the social fabric in an age now generationally dominated by Millennials?

Ali’s magically poetic polemic today would perhaps pose that America is suffering inside its biggest bubble ready to explode. 

If we don’t focus our attention on the most immediate concerns of building roads and bridges to schools and hospitals that need rehabilitation and healing, then the country may become “technically bankrupted” for our children and grandchildren.

Muhammad Ali’s conscientious objection poignantly would ask why aren’t we still not quite truly diverse in our boardrooms, in our C-suites, in our colleges and university leadership and faculty ranks, and in our highest ranking public-sector and private-sector charitable institutions or other bastions of real power and influence.

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

With all of the time, infrastructure and resources allocated to making us all more accepting of our differences, here we are reflecting upon Muhammad Ali’s legacy upon us 16 years after the start of the millennium with racial tensions, LGBT issues, women’s rights, pay equity, economic disparities, political divisiveness, voting rights and civil rights dominating our daily lives. There seems to be a rising plethora of racially-charged incidents of late coming from multiple segments of our society.

Harvard Business Review blog argues that diversity training can promote prejudice.

“Diversity training doesn’t extinguish prejudice. It promotes it,” the prestigious college periodical cites.

The blog, citing a study of 829 companies over 31 years, showed that diversity training had “no positive effects in the average workplace.” Millions of dollars a year were spent on the training resulting in, well, nothing. Attitudes — and the diversity of the organizations — remained the same.

It gets worse. The researchers — Frank Dobbin of Harvard, Alexandra Kalev of Berkeley, and Erin Kelly of the University of Minnesota — concluded that “In firms where training is mandatory or emphasizes the threat of lawsuits, training actually has negative effects on management diversity.”

The solution proposed by the Harvard Business Review for the divisiveness of diversity initiatives is rather than engaging people through the lens of race, gender, age, heritage, religion, disability, sexual orientation and parenting, we need to engage people as people.

This kind of engagement of people is what the conscientious objector Mohammad Ali pledged as an athlete-statesman in principle.

“Stop training people to be more accepting of diversity. It’s too conceptual, and it doesn’t work,” says the Harvard Business Review. “Instead, train (people) to do their work with a diverse set of individuals. Not categories of people. [Just as] People.”

Mohammed Ali actually engaged in difficult conversations with a global public during the turbulent late 1960s and seventies.

“Teach (people) how to have difficult conversations with a range of individuals. Teach (people) how to manage the variety of employees who report to them. Teach (people) how to develop the skills of their various employees,” argues the Harvard Business Review.

“Move beyond similarity and diversity to individuality.”

Athlete-statesman Muhammad Ali was definitely one of a kind. He was indeed about individuality and that was his true freedom to be just as the people who loved him around the world.

At its core, “diversity”, as it is used in relation to the workplace, is a divisive and rather weird concept, reports The Guardian (U.K.). “In claiming certain groups into its fold, it suggests that some people are “diverse” and some are “not diverse”. It suggests, in other words, a nucleus of normal and goes about classifying everyone off-centre into check-box categories that can be totted [or totaled] up and turned into tables for the annual report.”

“What’s more, definitions of diversity tend to be skin-deep, about differences you can see […],” The Guardian (U.K.) concludes.

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

Photo Credit: Muhammad Ali hugs U.S. President George W. Bush (above), in a White House Ceremony in 2005, awarding Statesman #Ali, who “defined the terms of his public reputation,” as a recipient of the Presidential Citizens Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, both in 2005.

It appears that whenever a high profile and potentially racially divisive incident occurs, the battle lines are drawn. Even if the incident or issue (albeit health, human services, housing, education, energy, sports, entertainment or environment) itself has nothing to do with race, it quickly turns into a racial issue, when racial stereotypes surrounding those involved come into play.

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)

We all tend to speak over each other and not with each other so fast nowadays in which conventional wisdom spreads with such exponential virility, like a brush fire, that no containment or quarantine of information, knowledge or understanding is possible.

We have seen countless instances that demonstrate that we are much less tolerant of others, much more outspoken in our politically incorrect views, and with very little to show for all of the dollars spent on conferences and programs aimed at making us more diverse and more racial and gender tolerant.

Take the explosive case of Paula Dean. She honestly answered a question that was asked of her. Yet, she was slaughtered in the press alongside her food empire being attacked. Blacks surprisingly came to her defense. For them, what she said and did was troubling of course. But also blacks see in her own, southern charming way, this woman, who grew up in the height of racial segregation, simply told the truth. Some could say she was too naïve to know better. However, her naivety is what endears her to us. She admitted what she said and felt. Since then, she has taken steps to face her inbred prejudices.

Contrast the case of Paula Dean’s comments, to what takes place in corporate offices, where discussions about the racial makeup of the leadership teams surely take place.

Some would say, “We have become a very diverse nation and diversity, due to its very nature, breeds disagreement. People have always had trouble getting along with each other, but in our day we find ourselves in a divided country.”

In part, “we are a nation divided because of two things which are mutually exclusive – liberty and government. While some people seek a government that passes binding laws that infringe on personal freedom, others seek a more libertarian form of government. While one group sees the government as the solution to our problems, another sees it as the cause of our problems,” some would add.

Yes, America, we have a long way to go before we truly accept each other and our differences so as “to run so as to win,” much as Muhammad Ali did (in his foggy morning training photo below). We need to learn how to fully appreciate the rainbow of colors, ideas, lifestyles and philosophies in each other. We must learn not to judge others, because they hold views and opinions quite dissimilar to ours. It is only then will we be a society that truly appreciates our differences, and values those perspectives that we all have.

Our long and winding road across our risky and uncertain world is no longer the same without the conscientious objection spirit and voice of peace and inclusion from The Greatest, Muhammad Ali, leading among us.

A Soul of a Butterfly with a Sting of a Bee, #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)


Oliver G. McGee III is a teacher, a researcher, an administrator, and an advisor to government, corporations and philanthropy. He is professor of mechanical engineering and former Vice President for Research and Compliance at Howard University. Dr. McGee is former Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), Inc. He was Professor and former Chair (2001-2005) of the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Geodetic Science at Ohio State University. He is the first African-American to hold a professorship and a departmental chair leadership in the century-and-a-quarter history of Ohio State University’s engineering college. Dr. McGee has also held several professorships and research positions at Georgia Tech and MIT.

McGee is the former United States (U.S.) Deputy Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Technology Policy (1999-2001) at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and former Senior Policy Advisor (1997-1999) in The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He is a NASDAQ certified graduate of UCLA John E. Anderson Graduate School of Management’s 2013 Director Education and Certification Program, and NYSE Governance Services Guide to Corporate Board Education’s 2003 Directors’ Consortium (on corporate board governance).

McGee is a 2012-13 American Council on Education Fellow at UCLA Office of the Chancellor Gene Block. He is a 2013 University of California Berkeley Institutes on Higher Education (BIHE) graduate. He is also an Executive Leadership Academy Fellow of the University of California, Berkeley Center of Studies in Higher Education (CSHE) and the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE), Inc. McGee is an American Association of State Colleges & Universities’ (AASCU) Millennium Leadership Initiative (MLI) Fellow – educational leadership and management development programs for prospective university chancellors and presidents.

Education Background: Ohio State University, Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Civil Engineering, University of Arizona, Masters of Science (M.S.) in Civil Engineering, University of Arizona, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Engineering Mechanics, Aerospace Engineering (Minor), The University of Chicago, Booth School, Masters of Business Administration (M.B.A.), The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Certificate of Professional Development (C.P.D.), Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy – Certificate of Fund Raising Management (C.F.R.M.).

Partnership Possibilities for America – Invested in STEEP Giving Forward, founded by McGee in 2010, is based in Washington, DC.

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Jun 302014

21f29cc - "The Boss Wants to Play Pickup"

Chris, formerly trained as a NCAA swing-man guard-forward, was suddenly playing in the game of his life.

White House Photo. President Obama positions himself under the basket during a pickup game with Congressional members and Cabinet Secretaries at the White House Basketball Court.

One summer day back in 2010, a tall, lean athlete, Chris (anonymously named herein for United States Secret Service and presidential discretion), stuffed a pair of size 14 basketball shoes and a change of clothing into his gym bag. Instead of heading for hoops as usual at my Georgetown neighborhood gym, this athlete was instead escorted to Camp David by the United States Secret Service.

“President Obama wanted to play some pickup games before taking a vacation,” says Chris, who was frequenting my Georgetown gym, where a White House correspondent point-man for The President played as well. That’s how the invite came his way.

After playing a couple of pickup games with the White House point-man, “I got this text from him simply saying, ‘The Boss Wants to Play Pickup.’ ”

05973d2 - "The Boss Wants to Play Pickup"

White House Photo: President Obama playing pickup basketball at Camp David.

“Needless to say, I was kind of in disbelief, but I took him seriously, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, and so the rest is well history,” Chris told me just as causal, quiet, and humble as he is.

“The secret service was on guard, but they were very relaxed, because they knew The President had some pickup ball to play,” Chris says.

And boy did Chris bring it for ‘The Boss‘.

Skillfully trained in the game of basketball, Chris says shooting hoops with President Obama ranks near the top of his NCAA college basketball career memories.

But, playing pickup with The Boss is the highest-tier.

And, Obama plays a ‘mean‘ pickup game too recalls Chris to me.

“The President can play, Chris exclaims confidently, “he threw his body up into the ball a lot, and was really being physical with us in play,” says Chris with a nodding smile.

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White House Photo Credit: President Obama takes a shot during a pickup game with Congressional members and Cabinet Secretaries at the White House Basketball Court.

Chris recalls further how he just fell into ‘the zone‘ in play with The President, as just one of the guys, much like he did, while playing on the NCAA varsity basketball floor.

“I even had to block him once,” remembers Chris with some pride.

You would be proud too, if you had the chance to block The President’s stuff, like Chris did.

141b246 - "The Boss Wants to Play Pickup"

“The President’s got a crossover and he’s got some fundamentally sound basketball moves,” as Chris breaks it down, “The President uses his body positioning well, and he out-smarts his defenders, when he gets the chance. He’s even got a ‘mean‘ pump fake, hopping under the defender’s arm, and at times, driving hard straight to the hoop” Chris analyzes.

“The President regularly posted up two points, recalls Chris, “assisting his side of 5-on-5 teammates on their way to victory in the game.”

Sounds like just a normal day at the office for The President.

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Photo Credit: Obama for America Campaign 2008, Former Illinois Senator Obama takes the ball to the hole as Reggie Love, green jersey, former Duke basketball team Captain, left, and Chris Duhon, former Duke basketball standout, right, guard the Senator in quick pursuit.

In fact, a bond between The President, and his young 29-year old and outgoing former personal aid, Reggie Love, now enrolled at The Wharton School, it is generally-known has been set on a basketball court. The pair played pickup games regularly during the presidential campaign, a practice that has carried over to the South Lawn of the White House. Love, a star wide receiver on the football team and captain of the basketball team at Duke, rarely plays against The President.

“Reggie is 20 years younger than me,” Obama said during his first presidential campaign. “So there is no doubt that I have to have Reggie on my team. I can’t be guarding Reggie.”

“I know definitely I’m going to miss that,” Love said. “He’s been like a big brother to me, a mentor. I’ve learned so much about life from him. I’ve spent most of my adult life working for him, so it’s going to be a challenge….”


Frankly speaking, I could never do what Chris or Reggie has done with The President. I am as tall as Chris at 6 foot and 4 inches. Many times, as I board a very tight commuter airplane completely bent over, folks on-board always ask me, if I ever played basketball.

Thankfully, Not!

159d44d - "The Boss Wants to Play Pickup"

Watching me play on a basketball court is like watching Will Ferrell – ‘all-out laughs’ in some of his most classic physical comedy, if you can just imagine me on a basketball court.

In shooting the ball, my buddies repeatedly ask me, “How do you completely miss the entire back-board in sailing the basketball over it, when you take a shot.” I never make two points. We do not even think about me making any three’s, because it is hysterically funny to watch. I am such a ‘Gomer’ on the basketball court.

And watching me jump is just hilarious, especially as tall as I am at 6 foot and 4 inches, like Chris.

Dunking the ball is simply out-of-the-question hysterical. As jumping for me, looks like I have an old broken rusted-out ‘slinky toy’ attached to my heels and nailed to the floor. I jump up to nowhere near any kind of respectable heights. I usually come right back down fast with absolutely no kind of so-called ‘hang time.’ Sometimes, I even land face-first – learning quite fast that we have gravity here on earth. And, I should stay on it.

Usually my buddies are saying, “Stop! Please stop, don’t do that, stop! Our sides are splitting we’re crying laughing so hard.”

It is great comedic stuff watching me playing some pickup basketball. Let’s just say I won’t be getting a text like Chris did saying, ‘The Boss Wants to Play Pickup‘ anytime soon.

Notwithstanding, I love to watch Kobe, LeBron, and the NBA professional’s magic in the The Finals. Besides this, I love the college pageantry of March Madness, like The President and all of America in the spring.

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I personally believe basketball players are the most finely-tuned, cross-fit endurance, and physically-trained athletes. A basketball player’s strengths include a quick first-step, a long wing-span, an exceptional leaping ability, some miraculous passing like Magic, and a versatile 3-point range like MJ. Some swing-man guard-forward pickup players, like Chris and President Obama, are smart and accomplished in making sound floor judgment and providing unbeatable floor leadership.

You see it is all about the mind and the body coming together, as one team spirit and trust in each other, oftentimes in deep trusting bonds for life. I have experienced this, indeed, I am blessed to now say.

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Photo Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images. President Barack Obama accepts a jersey and basketball from Lakers captains Derek Fisher (left) and Kobe Bryant (center) during a ceremony to honor the 2008-09 NBA champions.

A father’s legacy of pickup basketball.

It has been many times said, “The Road to the White House is through Cincinnati.”

My admiration of the pickup game is for good reason. In my family it has been all around me for a couple of decades.

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My stepfather is the great George Wilson, a two-time NCAA Basketball Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist. Currently living in Cincinnati with his lovely wife of 25 years – Jean Wilson, my mother – George was a member of the 1961-1962 University of Cincinnati Bearcats NCAA Basketball Championship Teams and a member of the Gold Medal winning 1964 United States of America Basketball Team – including former New Jersey Senator and 2001 presidential candidate Bill Bradley of Princeton – at the 1964 Olympics held in Tokyo, Japan.

As a 6’8” pivot man, George established ‘a mean hook-shot’ very early back in 1958, modeled after then-Northwestern great Joe Ruklick – way before the rise of Kareem’s famed ‘sky-hook’ a decade later at UCLA.

In 1958 George, a high school All-American (1956-60), led Chicago’s west side Marshall High School to a 31-0 record and the Illinois State Championship. In 1960 he was the inaugural winner of the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year award. George was also named All-State of Illinois in high school basketball for three years.

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Photo Credit: Longtime friends, Oscar Robertson and Jean Wilson, my mother, at a book signing of “The Big O” by Oscar Robertson.

Upon the urging of 1960 Olympic Gold Medalist in Basketball, the incomparable Oscar Robertson, who had just led the University of Cincinnati Bearcats in a buzzer-finishing heartbreaking defeat to Fred Taylor’s Ohio State Buckeyes – including sophomore basketball greats John Havilcek, Jerry Lucas, and senior Bobby Knight – in the 1960 NCAA Championship game, George later led the Bearcats back to a NCAA Championship in 1961 against that same Fred Taylor Ohio State team, then juniors at the time – excluding Bobby Knight, who had graduated.

George also became a NCAA All-American, as part of the 1962 NCAA Champion Bearcats again in the championship game victory over the same Fred Taylor Ohio State Buckeye team, then seniors at the time. After graduating from the University of Cincinnati with an education degree in 1964, George rejoined his close friend, the NBA great Oscar Robertson, and former New York Knicks great, Jerry Lucas, on the 1964 then-Cincinnati Royals of the NBA. From 1964-71 George went on to play seven seasons in the NBA for various teams, including the Chicago Bulls, the then-Seattle Supersonics, Philadelphia 76ers, the first Phoenix Suns team, and the then-Buffalo Braves, averaging 5.4 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game in his NBA career.

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George has been induced into Chicago’s Marshall High School Hall of Fame, the Chicago Coaches Hall of Fame, the Illinois High School Hall of Fame, the University of Cincinnati Hall of Fame, the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, the Greater Cincinnati Basketball Hall of Fame, the Ohio Hall of Fame, and most recently in 2008, the Chicago-Land Sports Hall of Fame.

Our family’s pickup basketball legacy does not end here.

George’s son, Derek Wilson Sr., my stepbrother, who is currently living in Luxembourg, also was raised in Cincinnati, a 1985 graduate of Walnut Hills High School. Following graduation he earned a full basketball scholarship to Coastal Carolina College, playing for Coach Russ Bergman. At Coastal Carolina, he was named to Playboy magazine’s All-American Team (1988-89) during both his junior and senior years (also being named the Playboy magazine’s Anson Mount Scholar Athlete of the Year in 1988). Following college, Derek played professional basketball overseas in both South America (in Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil) and Europe (in Luxembourg).

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Photo Credit: Playboy Magazine’s 1988-1989 ALL AMERICA TEAM: Left to right, top to bottom: Derek Wilson, forward, Anson Mount Scholar/Athlete, Coastal Carolina; Mark Macon, guard, Temple; Glen Rice, forward, Michigan; Sean Elliot, forward, Arizona; Tom Hammonds, forward, Georgia Tech; Stacey King, center, Oklahoma; John Chaney, Coach of the Year, Temple; Sherman Douglas, guard, Syracuse; Michael Smith, forward, Brigham Young; Charles Smith, guard, Georgetown; Todd Lichti, guard, Stanford

George’s grandson and Derek’s and Daniele Wilson’s son, Derek Wilson Jr. (nicknamed “DJ”), has grown up to become a 6’5” shooting guard, including versatilities as point guard and small forward, for his Luxembourg high school, LCD Diekirch. Leading his team in scoring (at 22.7 points), rebounds (at 8.5) and assists (at 4.3) in 2009, DJ represented Luxembourg in the U20 European championship in July 2009 in Macedonia. He was the second youngest competitor in the international field of basketball players, which included more than 200 players from more than 15 European nations.

Now that’s a global pickup game for DJ.

Born in 1991 and raised in Luxembourg, Europe, DJ has both an American (by his father) and Luxemburgish (by his mother) passport. He’s an excellent student, scoring a 1550 on his SAT in May 2009, and he speaks and writes in four languages fluently (English, German, French, and Luxemburgish). He has three younger brothers Jamal, 16, Malik, 14, and Isaiah, 12.

And now our family’s pickup basketball legacy continues onto the new generation.

My lovely niece, Nailah Edwards, daughter of my delighted sister, Brenda McGee, was a center-forward and point-guard basketball star for the Mount Washington Middle School Mustangs, and she was a standout teammate for The Cincy Tigerette, an AAU-sponsored select team from Cincinnati-wide middle schools. Nailah’s most notable basketball achievement has been top rebounder and her nickname is “Dunkin,” because she regularly rebounds the ball and quickly runs back and dunks it in her team’s basket. Wow.

And remember, dunking the ball by me is simply hilarious.

So, you can see why I so admire George, Derek, DJ, Nailah, and Chris. They really can play pickup with ‘The Boss‘ and even dunk the ball with him too.

I can only watch them all play pickup. But, I do appreciate hearing about their achievements in the pickup game too.


Playing a Pickup Game is as much about what is not being said than what is.

“After our game we all hung around with President Obama, who provided us with a great meal and an awesome tour around Camp David,” Chris recounts. “The President is a great mentor, as he gave me some personal moments and great advice on planning forward in my life.”

“I found The President to be very approachable and relaxed in socializing and talking with us like one of the guys,” recalls Chris fondly, “it was more than a fun day, I can’t say enough about it.”

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Listening as Chris recalled his wonderful story one cannot help but to immediately like him, as many of us cross-fitness enthusiasts at our private exclusive Georgetown gym do. I also thought as I listened to Chris’s unique perspective and take on his life-changing moment at Camp David that there is something humbling about playing ‘5-on-5 pickup’ basketball with the most powerful man in the world. This is what makes the White House such an exceptional institution respected around the world. The White House is extraordinary, because it is so ordinary for all of us.

Although I have been inside the White House, I have never been to Camp David. Yet, I find myself possessing so much pride in Chris, my friend, having been given the opportunity to be there already at his tender age so soon just beyond 22. Camp David, as Chris and I believe, is such a place of relaxation and humility for brokering any high-stakes game of pickup.

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We all can indeed be most extremely proud of The President for giving to Chris – at such a tender age beyond 22 – an experience that will transform his life. For Chris now knows what’s possible for him – the power of communication in a pickup game with ‘The Boss.’ And as his friend, I am truly rejoicing in that for him.

This is what makes such power of communication in the age of Obama, so unique and unusual to so many Americans in these times of our history. When it is as much about what is not being said than what is. Or, as much about what people are saying to each other or are not saying.

According to my in-house expert, my stepfather, George, in pickup basketball it is all about the art of the game – “where not much gets said, except where to be, who to box out, who’s shot to block” – including Obama’s humbly for Chris. Most of all, pickup basketball is all about “where the ball is,” says my stepfather. “The pickup is also about the physical squaring up, the pick and roll, the quick crossover move, the head fake and round-under, and then the “open shot” or “lay-up” or “tip-in” or even an occasional ‘dunk’ – altogether leading to just two points,” counsels George. “And then quickly you get ready, get set, launch your defense, and try to do it all over again, once you go up and back down the court.”

Sounds a lot like the risk and uncertainty of the American experience, right?

President Reagan was fondly known as “The Gipper” – who went for it all, most of the time throwing the touchdown pass for six points.

In the pickup that’s three baskets. Or, for a swingman guard-forward like Chris playing against President Obama, that’s two “sharp-shooting” three-pointers.

President George W. Bush, in contrast, was more focused on throwing the strike, but sometimes he threw a ball – and domestically that ball at times hit the dirt for no points at all.

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For President Obama it takes an individual focus – “a zone sort-of-speak,” says Chris – and a calm patience to consistently make two points at a time each trip he takes up and back down The Forum – that is, Congress – in ‘finding the votes that fits the fuss.’

Sometimes you get them. Sometimes you don’t.

And the pickup and floor leadership here is really once again, as much about what is not being said than what is, or about what people are saying to each other or are not saying.

Nonetheless, it is the eloquence of the endgame in the pickup that matters most.

The win achieved in the game is oftentimes only by a basket. Inasmuch as, the two teams logged into history, separated as winner and loser, is oftentimes determined by a slim margin of just only one or two points. On rare occasions, a margin wider than that becomes a ‘blowout’ – or a landslide.

The age of Obama understands this art of the pickup. This was the anatomy of its biggest win – The White House.

“This happens all the time throughout history,” Obama says to ABC’s Barbara Walters on November 26, 2010 in calmly responding to her questions.

No Drama Obama’ is as cool as his pickup game text message to Chris, “The Boss Wants to Play Pickup.”

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White House Photo. President Obama reaches over the shoulders of 6’9″ Bill Russell to present him with the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the White House East Room.

Basketball is an inner circle of five with no single leader in a pick-up game. Average teams have little to no leadership and no plan just everybody is attempting to score. Football is an organizing cabinet of twenty-two, and there is always a quarterback – where the process temporarily pauses, while the next strategy is planned before the next play resumes. There is a difference in the object of each game. Basketball is individual management for team leadership, whereas football is team leadership for individual management – the glory and the grief falls onto the shoulders of the quarterback and his decision-making.

This is what we recently laid claim to The “Tebowing” Effect.

Essentially, we want this in our business and government leaders. We want our executives to be team quarterbacks not just individual dunkers. The Boss Wants to Play Pickup is more about how our American experience can perhaps focus too much on picking up issues, but not enough on why or what we should be focusing on.

Likability is an art of our picks.

Chris and I, in our discussions about this, of course, can see why Obama likes to play pickup. He signals to us his passion each spring during March Madness. It also reveals a little something about the intimacy of the man outside his prominent role in the American experience.

What can be said by people in the midst of what is not being said is we should take some comfort in The President’s sense of intimacy in his presidency. This is what is underlying The President’s consistently high likability personally in all the tracking polls on his game.

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Chris, my friend, possesses a similar likability as The President, which, through a pickup basketball game, has awakened the true secret of his future promise and potential in life. And for this, The President is a good man.

I am honored and humbled to share in Chris’s life transforming pickup basketball moment with ‘The Boss.’ For Chris can now truly see what’s possible for him. And for that, this is good for this young man.

Like most college athletes I have worked with, Chris is not planning to chase the professional ‘sports star’ dream after graduation. He currently serves the federal levels, as a post-graduate intern on information and security technologies. But like The President (whose brother-in-law Craig Robinson is former basketball head coach at Oregon State, and whose Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is an ‘old hoops buddy’ Chris also played with at Camp David), Chris expects basketball to remain a big part of his life for as long as he can drive the lane (with whoever wants to be in the lane with him, including a sitting president and a cabinet secretary).

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Chris, like The President, will go far too. I like to think The President saw this in him, like I have in mentoring him.

I wholeheartedly agree with how Chris has conveyed in our conversations, as to how he has attempted to make major social impacts through his academic experiences and professional development. His contributions to the community will always remain with him, as a guiding principle of his undergraduate education and NCAA basketball playing experiences.

This guiding principle, I can attest Chris has gained from his pickup basketball game at Camp David, is increasing the public’s understanding of intimacy and humility in leadership for the good and benefit of our American institutions of family, church, schools, government, businesses, philanthropy, and communities.

I have spoken to Chris on several occasions regarding his future plans and each time I have come away with a real sense that he is firmly grounded toward reaching his goals in service to our country now. Furthermore, he is crafting a clearer and definitive plan towards completing his training to do so, the first step in his calling towards making a real difference.

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I have often expressed to him that I believe he will make a fine Congressman. He has an individual sense of people as much as his sense of the issues important to our lives, a quality I firmly believe is an early prerequisite for one to be successful in a political career, like The President.

I think Chris’s acceptance of the opportunity of presidential pickup basketball is one transforming moment that may launch his quest along his future professional career path.

I believe young people should be more exposed to outstanding opportunities that encourage them not only to pursue careers in public service, political-economic sciences and technology. But also, encourage young people to provide a good life and a good society for us all. Chris has exhibited the future promise and innovative ability to lead in this national effort and to represent his generation in a truly outstanding and positive way. In addition, he has showed early evidence that he is able to address tough questions we all face in these times. He has a genuinely creative and unusually penetrating mind and his judgment is extremely sound.

Sounds to me like a good pickup basketball player and floor leader in a good life for a good society.

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Like young George Wilson then in the early sixties, Chris is a similarly remarkable scholar-athlete and young man now. He is among the best scholar-athletes I have had the unique pleasure to mentor during my life and that I fully expect to see that he will indeed go far like so many scholar-athletes do.

I hope that you will agree with me about the quality of this fine young man’s story at Camp David playing pickup with ‘The Boss.’ I am especially gratified by President Obama for affording him the opportunity to socialize at Camp David, and to further Chris’ commitment to not only his higher education, but also his love for pickup basketball – and “more than a fun day” with ‘The Boss‘ and ‘the secrets of his service.’

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