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Love details time with President Obama in new book "Power Forward"

President Barack Obama jokes with Special Assistant Eugene Kang,  Personal Secretary Katie, Johnson and Personal Aide  Reggie Love in the Oval Office 3/5/09. 
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
President Barack Obama jokes with Special Assistant Eugene Kang, Personal Secretary Katie, Johnson and Personal Aide Reggie Love in the Oval Office 3/5/09. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

For his entire career, Reggie Love has played backup for some of the biggest names in their respective fields—namely, Mike Krzyzewski and President Barack Obama.

Now, Love will step into the spotlight.

The former Blue Devil guard-turned-forward and body man—or self-described “chief of stuff”—published his first book, “Power Forward: My Presidential Education” Feb. 3., which takes a behind-the-scenes look at Love’s athletic career and follows him up through his time as a personal aide to then-Senator and current President Obama.

“[The attention] is a little weird,” Love said. “I’m welcoming to it because I think, ultimately, the things that Coach K, the President and my father taught me, those lessons I think aren’t really about me. They’re about them. I’m really just more of a vehicle here to amplify some of those messages. That part is not that difficult.”

Much of Love’s book focuses on finding success in the wake of failure. He was suspended twice from the Duke basketball team following a DUI and some profane party photos, but both times he would work his way back. Eventually, Love would become the first walk-on in Blue Devil history to be named a captain and would play a key role as Carlos Boozer’s reserve in Duke’s 2001 national title run.

And as memorable as those moments may be for Blue Devil fans, it was on the campaign trail where his college lessons would serve him best, he writes.

Arguably one of the more humorous moments in the book comes when he recalls the time he forgot Obama’s taquitos on a campaign trip through Washington. As Love points out throughout the book, during a campaign, mealtime is sacred, a time when the candidate can sit down and collect themselves for 30 minutes before getting back to the daily grind of phone calls, interviews and town halls.

So when Love forgot to pick up Obama’s desired Mexican dish, the senator’s disappointment was palpable. But, Love did not allow the first failure to bring down the entire day, later surprising the future Commander-in-Chief in the campaign car.

“We have some grilled chicken, we have grilled salmon…”
He interrupted me, shook his head, and said with obvious disappointment, “The same stuff?”
Then, as Marvin held up a large bag, I replied, “And, we have some...taquitos!”
He looked like he’d won the lottery. We all started laughing hysterically. Anyone looking in through the window would have presumed we were crazy. And we probably were.

Now more than three years removed from his job as body man and taquito specialist—and two years out of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School with an MBA—Love, 33, is able to reflect on his time spent aside the nation’s leader and what he took away from his four years of service. But despite his numerous interesting stories and unique path, the idea for the book was not realized until spring of 2012, thanks to the inspiration of a random fan.

“I was speaking and this African-American woman comes up to me and says—and I spoke for an hour—and she says, ‘I could listen to you talk for forever. When are you writing a book?’ And at that point in time I heard her and I was like, ‘Oh, you’re so sweet. That’s such a nice thing to say,’” Love said. “And then literally three days later I got an email from St. Martin’s Press about wanting to potentially write a book. I met with them and came up with a proposal. I still wasn’t sure that that was the right thing to do.”

With law school student debt accumulating and at the urging of Simon & Schuster publishing company, Love decided to pen the book. It is far from a tell-all, using multiple flashbacks and the metaphor of sports to encapsulate the running theme of perseverance and competition that fueled the campaign team throughout the work. Love is also quick to point out that he does not want the book to be labeled as a memoir.

“In theory, this book is not a memoir,” he said. “It feels like a memoir in parts because a lot of it talks about my history, but it’s not my history as a function of, ‘I think you’ll find this really interesting.’ It’s a history as, ‘Here are the things that have happened to me that I think have helped prepare me for a lot of the things I’ve been lucky enough to participate in and be a part of.’”

Part of Love’s story hinges on the personal moments he shared with the president. Through 2007-2011, Obama and Love were practically attached at the hip. Love was required to know all the candidate-turned-president’s likes and dislikes and be on top of his meals, gym sessions and phone calls that took place throughout the day. If Obama needed to be somewhere, it was Love’s job to make sure he left on time and was prepared for his next event.

The job came with its fair share of sleepless nights, but with it firmly in the rearview mirror, it is the moments the two shared in the rare slow moments of the job that have stuck with Love.

“The two biggest things are—one, understanding that the perspective or point of view that I have currently, or that we have as a culture, is not the only perspective that’s out there,” Love said. “The biggest thing that you can do is try to understand other people…. The other big thing is you’ve got to appreciate and love your parents.”

But Obama is not the only notable leader to leave his mark on Love.

The Charlotte, N.C., native signed on to play football at Duke during the Carl Franks era, and after befriending Chris Duhon, would eventually work his way onto the men’s basketball team as a walk-on for Krzyzewski. Love was never a standout player and actually switched from guard to forward when Carlos Boozer went down with a broken foot Feb. 15, 2001 in a 91-80 loss to Maryland.

Standing just 6-foot-5, Love made sure to make up for his lack of size with relentless play on the court. The hard work paid off, as he was named a team captain as a senior during the 2002-03 season after his earlier missteps.

Now, even with time to look back on his experiences with what he calls two of the most competitive men he’d ever met, Love still had trouble picking which leader brought more intensity to the table. Despite Obama’s determination during their countless games of pickup—especially on primary days—Krzyzewski takes the edge on the court. But the President is not to be outdone.

“I know what it’s like to be on a Coach K team after a loss—it’s complicated,” Love said. “Overall, the President just has a different set of things that he’s responsible for. So I think he’s super-competitive across a lot of different things, whether it’s passing healthcare, figuring out a budget, there’s almost like an endless amount of things to compete on for him…. In terms of basketball, I don’t know if there are many people out there more competitive than Coach K.”

Although Love’s football teams did not approach the same success that current head coach David Cutcliffe has brought to Durham, he still makes sure to make it out to at least two home games a year. As a Charlotte native, Love made sure to attend the ACC Championship Game and Chick-Fil-A Bowl in 2013 and has kept in close contact with friend and second-year offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery.

And seeing as his true love has always been basketball, it is no surprise that Love—now that he has the time—makes the trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium at least three times a season to root on his former coach.

But the attendance runs deeper than just sports—Duke holds a special place in Love’s heart.

“I tell people all the time, and the President will attest to this—I’m obnoxiously in love with everything that has to do with Duke University,” he said. “I very much understand and appreciate that having been a part of a great university and basketball team and academic institution and football team—I totally understand all the things I’ve been able to be a part of and I want to give back.”

As Love kicks off his promotional tour, he knows he will have less time to watch Duke basketball make its march toward the ACC and NCAA tournaments, and will once again have to focus on the man sitting in front of the camera. The only difference being that this time, it is Love who will have to prep for interviews, not Obama.

Even with a hefty upcoming schedule—with dates with CNN, NPR, MSNBC and more coming up—Love is making sure to pencil in a visit to his old stomping grounds before wrapping up the tour.

“The press coverage is part of it. There will be a couple book signings,” he said. “There’ll be one in D.C. on the 9th of February. And I will do one in Durham but haven’t figured out the date yet. I will probably try to get there before exams but after basketball season.”

As far as what comes after the press coverage for Love, even he is unsure what lies beyond the media appearances and book signings. But at just 33 and with Krzyzewski and Obama on the long list of references, his future seems certain to hold enough interesting stories so that one day he will get around to publishing that memoir.

“I don’t think that I have a specific thing that I want to do. I want to be as active as I can be in the 2016 election,” Love said. “I want to pay off my student loans and other than that, I just want to continue to add value to people. How can I help make things a little bit better for my friends, my family, my community, however that may be.”


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