Bernie Sanders vs. Barack Obama: A Hypothetical Basketball Pick-Up Game


Almost lost in the news of Bernie Sanders’ victory in New Hampshire last night was the footage Fox News showed of his basketball skills. As the votes came in, Sanders was nailing a succession of bank shots in a gym with his family. His apparent prowess calls to mind our current president, and the question of who’d win in a pick-up game between incumbent and aspirant. All we’ve seen of Bernie’s skills is those shots last night, but we’re envisaging his game as the second (or first?) coming of Jeff Hornacek. Obama’s a lithe lefty with three-point range: Tayshaun Prince? Obviously, today Obama would destroy Sanders for the simple reason that he’s 20 years younger. But a hypothetical pick-up game, with both men in their prime? First to 11, and in deference to our contestants’ fitness levels, the defensive player only needs take the ball out of the key before switching to offense. Who comes out on top? We shall see.

Free throws for the ball. Bernie: no dribbles, fundamentally sound; lines it up and makes it. Obama: two dribbles, elegant looping shot. But it bounces off the back iron. Bernie gets the ball.

Sanders 1, Obama 0 Bernie takes possession at the top of the key and assumes the triple-threat position. Obama crouches into a languid defensive stance. Bernie puts the ball on the floor, shielding it with his body, and gets to his spot on the right block. Turnaround shot off the glass is good.

Sanders 2, Obama 0 Bernie has his fundamentals down. He makes the same move, but this time Obama reaches for a steal. Bernie’s too quick, though — as Obama swipes, he spins and lays it in with his right hand.

Sanders 2, Obama 1 Obama: “Come on, old man, let’s see you shoot the ball!” Bernie, combative type that he is, takes the bait. But his shot caroms off the side of the rim. Obama pulls down the rebound with gusto, and with Bernie out of position, he steps out and then glides in for the layup. “Check the ball, Bernie.”

Sanders 2, Obama 3 Obama with the triple, although it counts for two in this pick-up game. A little head fake, then he rises up into a lovely shooting motion. Nothing but net, just like that time in Kuwait. A little nod and a wink. Bernie shakes his head in frustration, and drops into a textbook defensive stance.

Sanders 3, Obama 3 Obama launches another three-pointer, but this one’s short. Bernie grabs the rebound, and Barack is in no position to stop him from stepping outside the key and then banking in a little eight-footer.

Sanders 4, Obama 3 Bernie goes hard in the paint! He backs Obama down, and then pulls a nifty spin move. The shot won’t go, but Bernie is all over the offensive glass. First put-back rattles out. Second put-back doesn’t. Bernie’s old-school Knicks jersey is starting to look sweaty. There’s a sheen on Obama’s brow. Game on!

Sanders 4, Obama 4 Sanders’ jumpshot is proving his weakness here. Obama backs off, daring him to shoot. Bernie does, but the bank shot from the top of the key won’t go. The rebound falls kindly for Obama, who backs it out and calmly nails a ten-footer from the right side.

Sanders 4, Obama 5 Bernie steps up, looking to pressure Obama’s dribble. Bad move. #44 is around him in a second, driving hard to the left and finishing gracefully at the rim. Sanders is sucking air.

Sanders 5, Obama 5 Obama launches what he’s hoping will be the dagger, a deep three from the left wing. It skews left, though, and as luck would have it, the long rebound goes straight to Sanders, who’s still outside the key. The lay-in is a formality. Game tied!

Sanders 7, Obama 5 Well, damn it! Sanders lines up a triple and swishes it! Even he looks a little abashed at this. It’s a nice-looking shot, though — high arc, good form, in off the back iron. Obama shakes his head in disbelief.

Sanders 8, Obama 5 Sanders is feeling it now — he backs Obama down to the left block, then throws a little Hakeem Olajuwon-style dream shake fake, right, then left, then pivoting into a deft little hook shot as he spins across the lane. Obama is rattled. Bernie pushes his glasses up on his nose and smiles.

Sanders 8, Obama 7 Sanders is feeling it too much — he tries to bamboozle Obama with a Tim Hardaway-esque crossover, which is ambitious considering Tim Hardaway wasn’t born when Sanders last graced the parquet. Obama reaches in and swipes the ball with contemptuous ease, and then buries a three. Ouch. Bernie, play to your strengths!

Sanders 8, Obama 8 Obama with the crossover, showing Bernie how it’s done. He precedes it with some tricky dribbling — behind the back, between the legs — and then blows by Sanders. For a moment it looks like he’s going to bring the house down with a dunk, but thinks the better of it and finishes with an elegant finger roll.

Sanders 8, Obama 9 Obama shows he’s got post moves, too, taking a couple of dribbles, throwing a head fake and then pivoting to step around Sanders, who’s leapt too early, to come up and under the rim to finish with a reverse layup. Bernie mutters something that begins with “Sch—” and checks the ball.

Sanders 9, Obama 9 You could see this coming — Obama wants to finish it with a triple. He’s barely gotten the ball back in his hands before he’s into his shooting motion. Perhaps he took it too quickly, though, because it’s the worst shot he’s taken all game, a bona fide brick that barely grazes the front of the rim. Sanders ties things up with the rebound and put-back, Obama remaining on the three-point line to conserve his energy rather than chase the rebound.

Sanders 11, Obama 9 GAME BERNIE! Obama steps off as Bernie holds the ball outside the three point line at the top of the key, mouthing “shoot it.” Bernie does just that, from straight on. The ball’s flying long, but it hits the backboard right in the square and drops softly into the net. Obama winces in disbelief and complains that Bernie never called “bank.” Bernie opines that all banks should be broken up anyway. Obama sighs. There’s a firm handshake and we’re done.