Obama basketball court at White House

Agence France-Presse

WASHINGTON -- Richard Nixon had a bowling alley installed at the White House; Gerald Ford, a swimming pool; and now, the residence of US presidents could house a basketball court to cater to the sporting talents of President-elect Barack Obama.

"Americans don't want to think of their president as weak," Tim Blessing, a history professor at Alvernia University in Pennsylvania told Agence France-Presse.

"It's not so much that he has to be fit, but he has to be vigorous," he said.

That's because the US presidency is "a killing job," Blessing added.

"A good number of presidents have died or become very sick in office. Americans know that and to us it's important that the president is able to handle what is a killing job," he said.

Obama exercises for 45 minutes every morning and displays skills on the basketball court that are the envy of many of his compatriots.

Men's Fitness magazine has named the Democrat one of the 25 fittest men in the United States, even cutting him some slack for falling off the wagon every now and again in his quest to quit smoking.

Last week, on the very evening of his historic election to the White House, Obama organized a basketball game with friends in a gym in Chicago to make the wait for the poll results more tolerable.

Indeed, a game among friends became a ritual for Obama throughout the long campaign that led to him being elected the first African-American president of the United States.

"I could play basketball with a consuming passion that would always exceed my limited talent," Obama wrote in his memoir.

One of the lucky few to pace the court with Obama on election night, Illinois state treasurer Alex Giannoulias, said the now president-elect was being overly modest.

"He's a lot stronger than he looks," Giannoulias told CNN. "He's a smiley guy but he plays really tough and is very disciplined."

Toughness and discipline are good traits for a president of the United States to have and there are those, like Obama's friend and former schoolmate Hill Harper, who believe the way someone plays basketball gives insight into their personality.

"I truly believe the way someone plays basketball definitely gives you a sense of who they are in their character," Harper told CNN.

Obama's wife Michelle might also subscribe to that way of thinking.

According to CNN, when she began dating Barack Obama, she asked her college-basketball-star brother Craig Robinson to test her new boyfriend on the court.

Robinson reported back to his sister that Obama was confident and unselfish, CNN said.

Teammates at the Punahou School in Hawaii said Obama was a "total team player" who "sucked it up" even when he didn't agree with the coach -- a character trait that might indicate that the next US president will favor multilateralism.

Obama himself would much prefer having a hoops court to a bowling alley in the White House.

Obama made a disastrous attempt at bowling a few weeks before Pennsylvania's Democratic primary in April, which was won by his rival for the party's nomination Hillary Clinton -- who was also a much better bowler than Obama.

There's plenty of room at the White House for a basketball court -- the ceilings are 22 feet (6.7 meters) high.

"Every president puts in his own equipment," said Blessing.

"We know that the average president works 14 hours a day, so that hour they take for sport is about the only break they take," he added.

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