WASHINGTON D.C. -- An invitation to shoot hoops with President Obama may be more coveted than an invite to a State Dinner, but it turns out it can also have a consequential career impact as well.
Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, was reappointed to a second term Tuesday, with news of the move leaking Monday. Economists have been bullish on Bernanke, who has helmed the agency during the most challenging economic period since the Great Depression.
But some advisers have urged Obama to move the agency in a more liberal direction by appointing a Democrat. Other names floated included former Fed vice chairmen Alan Blinder, Bernanke's colleague at Princeton, and Roger Ferguson, San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen and former Treasury Secretary and current White House aide Lawrence Summers.
Obama was genuinely torn, said an aide. So he made the executive decision to host a three-on-three basketball game: Obama, Blinder and Ferguson against Bernanke, Yellen and Summers. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel refereed.
The president did not tell them that their performance on the court would factor into the selection, but they were trying their hardest to impress anyway, said the aide.
"Blinder likes basketball to begin with, so he had a natural advantage," the aide reported.
Still, Yellen impressed with her speedy dribbling and deft ball handling. Summers -- perhaps sensitive to the criticism he received after remarks suggesting that innate differences between men and women might explain why not as many women succeed in science and math while president of Harvard University -- was particularly collegial, passing to teammates Yellen and and Bernanke as often as he tried making a shot himself.
Ferguson, however, suffered from an inconsistent jump shot and blundered badly on an attempted skyhook.
Ultimately, it was a clutch shot that sealed the deal for Bernanke, said the aide. Obama's team was leading, 49-47, with 10 seconds to go. Up till that point Bernanke had been solidly unremarkable -- neither impressing nor making any egregious errors. But then, in a stunning game changer, Bernanke hit a three point shot from over 45 feet away. Although that meant Obama's team lost, the president was still clearly impressed, said the aide.
The pivotal game took place Sunday evening at the exclusive and pricey estate that the Obamas are renting for the week. Although Obama did not explicitly tell the Bernanke or the other candidates afterward that the nearly mid-court shot was the decisive factor in his selection, his comment to Emanuel that "Ben is a miracle worker and that's just what we need for the economy" was interpreted to mean as such.
Still, there is some hope for the rejected candidates. Bernanke's term will last four years, which means that if Obama is still president he could renominate him or choose another candidate. At least one of the candidates is wasting no time in his preparations. After the Bernanke announcement, Blinder was heard asking a graduate student he is advising to contact Princeton's basketball coach to see if he could practice with the team. Presumably, the shape of the economy in four years also will be a consideration.