WASHINGTON - Caron Butler implored the officials not to start the game until a certain special spectator reached his front-row seat.
And when President Barack Obama finally arrived Friday night, delaying the tipoff by a few minutes, Butler and the rest of the Washington Wizards set out to send a message to the First Fan by beating his Chicago Bulls.
“He truly is a die-hard Bulls fan,” Butler said. “Hopefully we can convert him a little bit.”
With the Hoopster-in-Chief at courtside — the first president in nearly a decade to make the mile-or-so jaunt over from the White House to attend an NBA game — and buoyed by a louder-than-usual crowd in a fuller-than-usual arena, Butler and his last-place Wizards embarrassed Obama’s team with a 113-90 victory over the Bulls.
“I didn’t want the ball to be thrown up until he walked in, either, because I didn’t want to miss that,” said Butler, one of eight Wizards to score at least 10 points, the most players in double-digits in one game for the franchise since Feb. 5, 1993.
“I was telling the refs, like, ’Man, let’s warm up some more, then. Let’s stall. You all want to play tic-tac-toe or something just to kill time?’ I was truly nervous for the first time in my career just to have the president over there,” Butler said.
Then he paused a bit, before adding: “And I’m glad we got the ’W.”’
Wins have been few and far between for the Wizards, who are 14-44, the worst record in the Eastern Conference. It’s the Bulls who are supposed to be in the playoff picture, having started the day just a game out of the East’s last postseason berth.
But with Antawn Jamison leading the way with 27 points and 11 rebounds, Washington led by as many as 15 in the first quarter and — after the Bulls closed within 49-45 at halftime — by 25 in the fourth period to the delight of most of the 18,114 in attendance.
“I’m speechless right now. To come in here and lose to the Wizards by 23 points, it’s inexcusable,” said Ben Gordon, who shot 3-for-14 and scored only 11 points. “I don’t know what to say. We didn’t do anything well tonight.”
John Salmons scored 25 for the Bulls, who shot under 40 percent and were outrebounded 53-37.
“We weren’t aggressive. We took poor shots. We were out of sync,” Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro said.
The Wizards, meanwhile, were having a great ol’ time.
“Clearly, having the president here, having the buzz from the crowd, it all kind of led into a good feeling,” Washington interim coach Ed Tapscott said. “And you feed on that.”
Butler pumped his fist in Obama’s direction after one 3-polinter by teammate Nick Young. JaVale McGee rose high above the rim to slam in Butler’s alley-oop pass, then raised his hand to his forehead and saluted Obama.
“We were thinking about it before the game — something to do — and I just came up with that,” McGee said.
When Obama got up to leave with just under 4½ minutes left, Washington was ahead 103-86. Seconds later, Butler’s 3-pointer made it a 20-point margin.
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