WASHINGTON – He's no slouch, but President Bush will never see eye-to-eye with L.A. Laker Kobe Bryant.
It didn't stop the president from trying, though, Monday, when he stood on his tiptoes to receive a team jersey from the 6'7" guard at a White House fete for the back-to-back NBA champions.
While the height discrepancy with Bryant was manageable, the president, who stands 6'0", was dwarfed by veteran White House visitor Shaquille O'Neal. The 7'1" O'Neal gave the president a basketball and said he was happy to be at the White House to meet the fourth president to receive him during his basketball career.
"It's a good honor for myself, for my family, for black people," O'Neal said.
Bush thanked the 13 Lakers and coach Phil Jackson for demonstrating that heroism really takes place off the court. In front of an audience that included children from the Boys and Girls Clubs, Bush thanked the team for joining post-Sept. 11 efforts to "fight evil" by serving as mentors for inner-city children in Los Angeles.
"I want to thank the players who understand that with victory comes huge responsibility to encourage people to make the right choices in life," Bush said. "To me that's the true sign of a champ."
Jackson's players strolled around the East Room, signing autographs and happily waiting on a riser before Bush arrived.
"It's been two years, and a different president, but it's a pleasure to meet as many of them as you can. To walk through and just see the former presidents on the wall in pictures, or look at the artifacts ... it's educating," said player Rick Fox.
There was still room for joking though, in which Jackson and Bush both indulged.
"This group showed the country and NBA basketball how to work together as a group," Jackson told the president. "And I only hope that you and the Congress can do as much and the same."
Asking player Mark Madsen, who was celebrating his 26th birthday, to step forward and demonstrate his dancing technique, the president stopped him, saying, "I'm afraid the Secret Service might react violently if you did."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.