Nick Collison played in a lot of big games in his basketball career. The former Oklahoma City Thunder forward and 14-year NBA veteran was part of four OKC teams that made the Western Conference Finals and one NBA Finals appearance. He also played in two final fours and one national championship during his time at the University of Kansas.
Even so, one of his most cherished memories on a basketball court is something else. Of course, it helps that one of the participants in the memory was Barack Obama — the 44th President of the United States.
The event took place in the summer of 2012, leading up to the election in which Obama earned his second term. It was a basketball clinic on the campaign trail in New York City that several NBA players attended. However, Collison had no idea the event would eventually turn into the group playing a shooting game with Obama.
Collison recalled the experience shooting with President Obama on the Jayhawker Podcast hosted by Brian Hanni, who is the voice of KU Athletics.
“After the clinic, they said (Obama) wants to shoot hoops with you guys for a little bit. They’re going to make a court,’” Collison said. “It was in New York City at the Lincoln Center. They were going to somehow come up with a court in the building. And they were like, ‘He wants to shoot with you guys.”
Even then, Collison said he thought the session would last maybe 10-15 minutes. Instead, the competition lasted nearly two hours, with Obama even sinking a couple of game-winning shots along the way.
“We walk in there and there’s like these whiteboards up,” Collison recalled on the podcast. “Reggie Love, who actually played at Duke who is like Obama’s right-hand man throughout his presidency, he’s like, OK, here are the teams. We’re going to do this shooting competition and the team who wins at this basket is going to move to this basket. The President is going to play on this team.”
“So it was like two hours of this super competitive shooting competition. It was like one group would have to get to seven and move to the next basket. (Obama) is making the rounds, talking to everybody, super cool guy. He’s a huge basketball fan. He knew all about my game. We had just been in the finals but knew about every player there.”
Not only did Obama know every player, he decided to give the former Thunder standout a hard time for not looking to be more aggressive on offense. At the very least, it was hardly a controversial opinion to believe Collison should have played more minutes. In the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season that saw Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and James Harden lead the Thunder to the NBA Finals, Collison averaged 4.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 20.7 minutes per game.
Mr. Thunder — a nickname Collison revealed came from the team’s former Vice President of Basketball Operations Troy Weaver on the podcast — scored 8 points and snagged 10 rebounds in OKC’s lone NBA Finals win against Miami.
“(Obama) was coming up to me, and he was like, ‘You know, I’ve got to get Scott Brooks on the phone,” Collison said. “He’s like, I feel like you need to shoot more. All you do, you screen for Durant, you pass to Durant, but when you look to score, you can really score. I think you can do more.’”
Hair Jordan concluded the story with:
“It was really funny he knew all about my game and everybody in there. He’s a great guy. It was a highlight for me. I got some great photos from it.”
Unbelievable. Check out the full episode of the Jayhawker Pod below.