Nine months after Reggie Love left the White House for business school, the former Duke basketball player and President Barack Obama still make time for the occasional game of pickup.
Love, a former Duke football player and member of the 2001 men’s basketball championship team, joined the Obama campaign in 2007. He served as the president’s personal aide—commonly referred to as “body man”—until December 2011, when he left to pursue an MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Love, who graduated from Duke in 2005, is on track to complete his MBA this spring.
Although his time at the White House has ended, Love said he still keeps in touch with the president. Staffers periodically call or email Love with a question about something he might remember.
“I still have a place in [Washington,] D.C., so we see each other,” Love said of the president. “I help out with different events, and we still play basketball every now and then.”
When Love left the White House last winter, Obama invited him, as well as a group of friends and colleagues over to play cards. The group sat and watched Duke men’s basketball lose 85-63 to Ohio State. The loss did not help Love convert Obama into a Duke fan, as much as Love wishes he could have.
“With college basketball—you know with Harvard, Occidental—he doesn’t really know what college basketball is, didn’t really grow up and go to school in that kind of environment,” Love said. “He currently just likes watching the games, whether cheering for Georgetown, Duke or [North] Carolina. We’ve all seen in the NCAA tournament, though, that he has very much picked against Duke, which is unfortunate.”
One of Love’s best memories of the White House is when his past and present intersected in 2010, when the men’s basketball team visited to celebrate the NCAA championship.
“I was in the Oval Office going over the program with my current boss and former coach with the rest of the Duke world sitting in front of me,” Love recalled. “It was one of the better moments for me.”
Basketball has always been common ground for Love and the president. While Love was at the White House, the two played together several times a week. Love’s bottom-line characterization of Obama’s playing style is that it is “good team basketball.”
“He’s never the kind of guy whose only purpose is to score, though he can score,” Love said. “He’d prefer to win and have zero points than to score all the points and lose. I think his sense on court is: What do we have to do to win?”
Of all Duke basketball players, Love said Obama’s skill set most closely resembles that of Shane Battier, a fellow member of the 2001 championship team, in that he can do everything and play from all sides of the court while never easing up on his effort.
The president is highly competitive in all areas, whether it is basketball, tennis, pool or cards, Love added.
“The guy does not like losing, but granted I don’t know many that do,” he said. “I will say that [losing] particularly gets him pretty fired up.”
Love noted that fundamentally, Obama’s team-oriented approach to basketball translates to his leadership style as president, only on a much larger scale. Love also gained unique insight into the president off the court while serving as his personal aide. Obama, he said, inspires him to keep learning.
“Magazines, newspapers, blogs—the guy consumes more information than any other person I know,” he said. “I have gotten to witness how much he enjoys learning and how well-versed he is across so many different specialties, from policy to music to movies to history—it’s really amazing.”
As the height of the 2012 election approaches, Love, who was in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention last week, highlighted the expansion of health care and favorable student loan policies as successes of the Obama administration.
“When I turned 20, I came off my parents health insurance,” Love said. “That was something really hard for me as I transitioned between the NFL and politics. If I had been in a car accident in between jobs, I would have been in serious trouble.”
Love’s ties to Duke remain equally as strong as those to the president. He reflects on his time at Duke fondly as if it were yesterday, noting freshman orientation week, Pauly Dogs and the 2001 basketball championship in Minneapolis as a few of his favorite memories.
He credits not only political science and public policy classes as best preparing him for his work in the White House but also the exposure to different cultures and perspectives that Duke provides to its students.
“Being able to empathize and have perspective is one of the greatest things you can ever learn,” he said.
Love plans to visit campus for multiple Duke football and basketball games this year, including the football game versus North Carolina Oct. 20.
As for his outlook on Duke basketball, Love said he of course expects the Blue Devils to go all the way.
“If they don’t, I’m going to be heartbroken,” he said.