Obama and his friends were so competitive during their White House basketball games, he wound up in stitches

  • President Barack Obama always played a basketball match on election days.
  • The games got pretty competitive, not least because Obama would trash talk his opponents after winning.
  • During one game, an adversary accidentally elbowed Obama in the face and he required 12 stitches.
  • "The only guy who ever clocked the president and didn’t get arrested," Obama joked at a tech conference in Las Vegas.

President Barack Obama was a serious basketball player in high school and always felt that he could have landed on a division one team. Instead, he studied political science, went to Harvard, and became president.

But he always loved a hard, fast-paced game of basketball. When he got to the White House, he assembled a mini-league of sorts of former college players and others who had serious game.

One ritual was that the crew always played on election days. The tradition began during Obama's first presidential election.

"When I was running in Iowa, we played and we won and then in New Hampshire we didn’t play that morning and we lost," Obama said on stage Wednesday at a tech conference in Las Vegas hosted by identity security company Okta. "These were competitive games."

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Barack Obama playing sports over the years
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Barack Obama playing sports over the years
U.S. President Barack Obama waves to the crowd after chipping onto the 18th green as he finishes a round of golf at the Mid-Pacific Country Club in Kailua, Hawaii December 29, 2014. The President and his family are currently on their annual Christmas holiday season vacation. REUTERS/Gary Cameron (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SPORT GOLF)
U.S. President Barack Obama plays basketball with Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir (R) as he takes a tour of the exercise activities at the annual Easter Egg Roll at the White House in Washington April 6, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 14: U.S. President Barack Obama throws out the first pitch before the 2009 All-Star Game at Busch Stadium July 14, 2009 in St. Louis, Missouri. The American League beat the National League 4-3. (Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama plays tennis with tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, one of the activities at the annual Easter Egg Roll at the White House in Washington April 6, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Barack Obama is photographed playing football on the South Lawn of the White House with the family dog Bo in this handout photo taken in Washington, on May 12, 2009 and later released by the White House.. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout (UNITED STATES ENTERTAINMENT POLITICS) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama walks to putt his ball on the 18th green at Kapolei Golf Club during his Christmas holiday vacation in Kapolei, Hawaii, December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry
U.S. President Barack Obama takes a bike ride with his family on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts August 22, 2015. Obama is on a two-week vacation on the Vineyard. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
US Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) holds onto a rebound during a 3 on 3 basketball game during a campaign stop in Kokomo, Indiana April 25, 2008. REUTERS/Frank Polich (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
U.S. President Barack Obama (3rd L) attempts to block a shot by personal aide Reggie Love during a basketball game at Fort McNair in Washington, in this White House handout photograph taken on May 16, 2010 and released on June 7, 2010. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama plays with a football in the Oval Office of the White House in this handout photo taken in Washington, April 23, 2009 and later released by the White House. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout (UNITED STATES POLITICS) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama smiles on the 18th green at Kapolei Golf Club with friend Derrell Harrington during his Christmas holiday vacation in Kapolei, Hawaii, December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry
US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is seen swinging a baseball bat as a child in an undated family snapshot released by his presidential campaign, February 4, 2008. Obama, now a 46-year-old first-term U.S. senator from Illinois who would be the first black US president, heads into Super Tuesday's slate of 22 Democratic state primaries and caucuses in a tight race with Hillary Clinton to become the party's presidential nominee. REUTERS/Obama For America/Handout (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA). EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
U.S. President Barack Obama and NBA basketball player Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers play golf at Farm Neck Golf Club during Obama's annual summer vacation on Martha's Vineyard, in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, U.S. August 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) plays basketball during an impromptu stop at Riverview Elementary School in Elkhart, Indiana, May 4, 2008. The Indiana Presidential Primary will be held on May 6. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
U.S. President Barack Obama is photographed playing football on the South Lawn of the White House with the family dog Bo in this handout photo taken in Washington, on May 12, 2009 and later released by the White House.. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout (UNITED STATES ENTERTAINMENT POLITICS) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama plays golf with British Prime Minister David Cameron at The Grove golf course in Watford, England April 23, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) chases an errant ball as he plays basketball during an impromptu stop at Riverview Elementary School in Elkhart, Indiana, May 4, 2008. The Indiana Presidential Primary will be held on May 6. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
U.S. President Barack Obama celebrates after chipping in on the 18th green to end his round of golf with friends at the Mid-Pacific Country Club in Kailua, Hawaii December 21, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Barack Obama gets hit on the head by a rebound while playing basketball, an exercise activity during the annual Easter Egg Roll at the White House in Washington April 6, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
CHICAGO - OCTOBER 12: U.S. Senator for Illinois, Barack Obama, throws out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the start of Game Two of the American League Championship Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on October 12, 2005 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) competes for a loose ball with Ja'Rob McCallum (L) and Kory McKay (R) as he plays in a 3 on 3 basketball game during a campaign stop in Kokomo, Indiana April 25, 2008. REUTERS/Frank Polich (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
U.S. President-elect Barack Obama greets people after playing basketball at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii on December 30, 2008. Obama graduated from Punahou in 1979. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry (UNITED STATES)
President Barack Obama shoots a basketball on the White House South Lawn basketball court in this handout photo taken in Washington, March 6, 2009 and later released by the White House. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout (UNITED STATES POLITICS) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) plays basketball at Fort McNair in Washington in this handout photo taken in Washington, May 9, 2009 and later released by the White House. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout (UNITED STATES POLITICS) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama plays basketball during the annual 2010 Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, April 5, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
US President Barack Obama bikes with his daughter Malia at Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, on August 15, 2014 during their annual summer vacation on the island. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
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And he had a particular way to make sure that his teammates weren't just throwing the game to him because he was their boss and the leader of the free world. Obama was the master of smack talk.

"I'm a super competitive guy. I'm good humored about it. I’m not mean. But if you lose, I will talk about how badly I beat you. Part of the reason was to make sure, people were not wanting to hear it and they would try really hard," he said.

One time, they were playing a game of old guys vs. the young guys "we beat them all the time because they weren't as smart as we were," he said.

And that's when one of the guys stepped up the physical blocking and elbowed Obama right in the face.

Obama went flying, hit the ground and split his lip. He needed 12 stitches. Michelle "had no sympathy" he remembered, because she thought the super aggressive basketball game was "really idiotic." 

The best part was that the White House photographer caught the whole incident in "a frame by frame sequence of him elbowing me, knocking me down, and a bunch of people looking over me," Obama grinned. 

"I had it framed and sent it to the guy who felt terrible. I said to Joe [Biden], 'the only guy who ever clocked the president and didn’t get arrested.' True story," he laughed.

But he confessed that he doesn't play anymore because the older he gets, the bigger the risk of injury. His last game was during the November 2016 election. 

"The election didn't work out exactly," he said of Hilary Clinton's loss, "but I played great ... I think I was 4 of 6 from 3 [point line], I did a couple of spin moves. I was feeling outstanding."

And he dared a glance at his interviewer, Okta CEO Todd McKinnon. A tall, fit man who a year ago placed 14th at the world Cross Fit invitational games (McKinnon loosens up for his keynote presentation by doing walking handstands backstage).

"But I could still, probably take you, Todd. You look like you’re in great shape, but I dont know if you can ball," Obama said to a roar of laughter of the crowd.

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