The Most Controversial Part Of Obama's Off-The-Record Sloan Speech Was Just A Light Criticism Of The NCAA

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The off-the-record talk that Barack Obama gave at MIT’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last Friday didn’t stay under wraps for long. The folks at Reason obtained a recording of the former president’s hour-long speech and published it today, and—surprise—it doesn’t have anything too different from most of the on-the-record talks that Obama has given since leaving the presidency: some very broad talk about politics, plus commentary about the importance of diversity and a little basketball chat.

The conference took secrecy seriously here, requiring that audience members agree not to record, photograph, report, or otherwise publicly share anything from Obama’s speech before they were allowed to take their seats. Judging from the content of the talk, though, it’s hard to imagine any logical reason for such strict safeguards other than pumping up an air of exclusivity for MIT. There wasn’t too much in here that Obama hadn’t said before—equal pay is necessary, climate change is real, every organization should encourage and promote diversity, and so on—and there wasn’t really so much about sports, either. But there was a little, and here are the highlights:

He thinks the NCAA-NBA relationship should be restructured

Obama gently broached the subject of the NCAA’s hypocrisy back when he was in office, and he singled the organization out again here when asked what he’d do if he were commissioner of the NBA:

“It’s not solely the NBA, but—the need to create a well-structured D-league, so that the NCAA is not serving as a farm system for the NBA with a bunch of kids who are unpaid but are under enormous financial pressure. It’s just not a sustainable way of doing business. And then when everybody acts shocked that some kid from extraordinarily poor circumstances who’s got potentially 5 or 10 or 15 million dollars waiting for him is going to be circled by everybody, in a context in which people are making billions of dollars... That won’t solve all the problems, but what it will do is reduce the hypocrisy, and the likelihood of people being like Claude Rains in Casablanca walking in and saying “I’m shocked that there’s gambling going on in here!” and these kids who generally don’t have a lot of resources are able to help their families.”


If Obama were an NBA All-Star who’d be a free agent this offseason, with max offers from every team (hm, what a hypothetical), his top picks would be...

“I’ve got to be careful, because there are a bunch of friends of mine who are owners and part-owners of teams... I don’t want to hurt their feelings.”


Aw, c’mon. (He did eventually go on to name-check the Spurs, Rockets, Warriors and Celtics after talking about the importance of organizational culture and intelligence.)

Who is this “musical artist” who is absolutely terrible at basketball?

When asked what he could learn about someone from playing basketball with him, Obama talked about self-awareness—singling out “a singer, a musical artist” whom he once played a pick-up game with, someone who was “ballin’” and came “with an entourage,” but utterly sucked on the court. “His shot was broke... he had no self-awareness and thought he was good,” Obama said. “He surrounded himself with people who told him he was good, even though he’s terrible.”


Know who he was talking about?