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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 7, 1999
                       REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                      TO THE 1999 NBA CHAMPIONS,
                         THE SAN ANTONIO SPURS

                             The East Room

6:08 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Please be seated, everyone.

Welcome to the White House. I want to say a special word of welcome to Peter Holt, to Gregg Popovich; obviously, to the San Antonio Spurs. We're also joined today by four members of the House of Representatives from the great state of Texas: Congressmen Gonzalez, Rodriguez, Bonilla and Edwards. And we thank them for being here.

I want to acknowledge the team captains, Avery Johnson and David Robinson, who is the only graduate of the Naval Academy playing in the NBA. That's important, because I have to stick up for the service academies here. It's part of my job, you know. (Laughter and applause.)

I'd also like to offer a special word of welcome to Sean Elliott. He's had a tough few months; we're glad to see him here. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)

Everybody who works around here at the White House and who knows me knows that I am a basketball fanatic. You know, I live for the NCAA finals and the NBA finals, and I follow basketball very closely. And I've been fortunate enough to be good friends with two or three reasonably successful basketball coaches, who have taught me a little about the game.

And it's really -- it's a lot like politics. You get ahead, and then you get behind. (Laughter.) Then you try to get ahead again. And normally, you don't know whether you're going to win until right before the end of the game.

And I like this team. They started 6-8, and finished 46 and 7. And when we were watching the NBA, the semifinals and the finals -- and I always have people come over and watch the games with us -- and one night Hillary and I were watching with a bunch of our friends, one of whom was from one of the other towns you were playing, Coach. (Laughter.) And he kept cheering and cheering and cheering. And, finally, Hillary looked at him and said, now, tell the truth, don't you think the Spurs are the best team in basketball this year? And he said, well, of course. (Laughter.)

And I don't think there's much more you can say. This is a team with enormous talent, enormous dedication, a steel will and a great heart. And they won because they deserved to win. And I think all of us who love this sport -- not just people from San Antonio or from Texas -- were elated by their success, because they deserved it, and they earned it. And I'm glad to welcome them all to the White House today.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

You know, there's a thousand things I'd like to say. (Laughter.) I identify with a lot of people on the scene. You know, when the commentators kept saying, every time Avery was not guarded, he scored. Did you notice that? And they kept referring to one person who made the mistake of saying he really didn't belong in the NBA and could never lead a team to a championship.

You know, when I was governor of Arkansas, that's what they said about me when I was running for President. I identify with that. (Laughter.)

And then every time things were slightly in doubt, the television camera would do this close-up on Tim Duncan's eyes -- (laughter) -- and I knew they were going to win. I'm trying to develop that killer look. (Laughter.) We're about to enter all these tough budget negotiations, and I'm trying to visualize what Duncan looked like when it got really close, you know. (Laughter.) But if any of you guys want to stay around and help me through the next month, you're welcome to do it. (Laughter.) Government scale's a little low for you, but it's rewarding work, it's rewarding work. (Laughter and applause.)

Let me just say one thing, seriously. I don't want to talk about the contents of it. But one of the most interesting telephone conversations I ever had in my life -- with someone I had never met, especially -- was with Coach Popovich, when I called to congratulate him. And I realized that he was a man with a keen understanding of human nature, and the human spirit, and what it really takes to make good things happen. And I want to thank you publicly for that conversation, and for your remembering what we talked about as we walked in today. I'd say you've got a good chance to repeat.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 6:18 P.M. EDT