Boys will be boys: there’s nothing like a little international diplomacy served up amid layups and three-pointers. President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron were on hand at Tuesday evening’s March Madness kickoff game. Western Kentucky took on Mississippi Valley State in the first game of the tournament. And perhaps both teams were feeling the presidential pressure as they stumbled through simple shots and traded dozens of rebounds. Western Kentucky totaled just six field goals by halftime and had 28 turnovers by game’s end. Mississippi Valley State shot just 36% from the field.
In a televised interview at the half, Obama, who is no stranger to shooting hoops himself, used his midcourt seat to comment on the teams’ poor performance. “It may be nerves,” he said. “These are not teams that normally end up coming to the tournament.” Cameron seemed taken aback by the action, calling it “fast and furious.”
Despite the poor play, the game delivered a thrilling ending for the special guests. Western Kentucky overcame a 16-point deficit in the final five minutes, with T.J. Price hitting a three-pointer to complete the rally, with Western Kentucky winning 59-58 over Mississippi Valley State. And Hilltoppers took no shame in ascribing their win to the star power in the crowd. “I’m sure he liked what he saw,” WKU point guard Derrick Gordon told the AP, referring, of course, to President Obama. The Hilltoppers will go on to play their Bluegrass brothers, top-seeded Kentucky, on Thursday. They’re the only team out of the 68 in the tournament with a record below .500 (16-18 on the season). They won’t have the nation’s president to impress, though, so their rally caps might have fallen off by then.
While Obama was often seen explaining to Cameron the nitty-gritty of the game, he made it clear it was a mutual trade of sporting knowledge. Obama will help Cameron make sense of the NCAA bracket – though there’s no word if Cameron also selected Kentucky, Ohio State, Missouri and UNC for his Final Four like Obama. Cameron plans to educate Obama about the sport of cricket, as the president admitted, “I don’t understand what’s going on.”
Two heads of government taking in a game of hoops only serves to solidify the long-standing relationship between the U.S. and U.K. And what could be a more effective bond than a testosterone-boosting basketball game? Sure, they probably didn’t get any business done in Dayton, but it was an event that helped strengthen ties between the liberal American leader and the conservative British premier. And Cameron had the opportunity to accompany Obama to the crucial battleground state of Ohio, usually just flyover country for visiting world leaders who stick to the coasts.
And the hot dogs the two enjoyed for dinner showed their desire to play by commoners’ rules. There’s nothing like a little old-fashioned red-meat diplomacy, no matter the sport.