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Larry Stewart eyed the basketball goal. The pickup game to end all pickup games was knotted at 10 points each. The next made basket would end it.

So the former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga player rose and fired from 19 feet away. The ball headed toward the goal in a perfect arc. But would it swish or miss?

"We beat the president's team by one basket," Stewart said Tuesday night by phone.

That's the president, by the way. Barack Obama. Or as he may now be known on Chicago's South Side, Stewart's stepchild. (Just kidding, Mr. President.)

But on that Feb. 15 morning, Obama's team did fall to Stewart's crew in a top-secret pickup game inside the University of Chicago's high school gym. Many more details than that are apparently forbidden, though Stewart says the Prez was remarkably gracious in defeat.

"He was one of the first people to congratulate me," Stewart said. "He called me the 'bionic man' because of my knee brace. Of course, he also asked one of his teammates, 'How did you let him make that shot?'"

Not coincidentally, Stewart has asked himself more than once the past 11 days, "Should I have made that shot? But I didn't think about it then. The adrenaline of playing ball just makes you do what you do. I was just trying to win a basketball game."

Like most Chicagoans, Stewart has known about Obama for much of his adult life. For the past 15 years - ever since his brief CBA career ended - the 1992 UTC grad has played in an elite men's rec league that has occasionally included Craig Robinson, the president's brother-in-law.

College hoops junkies also know Robinson as the Oregon State head coach. But he was a hero of Stewart's long before he became the boss of the Beavers.

"He was one of the first guys on the South Side to play for an Ivy League school (Princeton)," said the 38-year-old Stewart. "Craig was a guy anybody could look up to."

Stewart has become that same kind of guy. He'll celebrate his 14th wedding anniversary to Angela on June 29. They have three healthy, happy children in daughter Lauren (9) and 7-year-old twins Andrew and Elijah.

"Thriller and Killer," Stewart said with a chuckle.

And when he's not schooling the Prez, he's helping school children ages 5-18 on the life lessons sports can teach through a program sponsored by the NBA's Chicago Bulls and Major League Baseball's Chicago White Sox.

"It's about fundamentals," Stewart said. "It's about teaching integrity. We're not trying to produce professional athletes. We're trying to develop healthier children. This program makes it gratifying to go to work every day."

Stewart had worked with celebrities long before he met Obama. He was a personal trainer at a Chicago health club frequented by Oprah Winfrey, Harrison Ford and Jim Belushi. He worked with all three.

But even those luminaries and the numerous pro athletes Stewart knows through the Bulls and White Sox pale in comparison to Obama. And last week was the second time he's played with the president since he was elected in November.

"We played together the first time, when he was still the president-elect," Stewart said. "We won all the games we played together then. Then I won this one against him. I'm not saying it's me (Stewart begins to laugh), but it could be."

(Memo to all former, current and future Mocs: Scrap the "Can you top this?" conversations at all future player reunions. Because you can't top Stewart. Not now. Not ever.)

Yet Stewart will also tell you the cool, calm, collected Obama you may have watched deliver his unofficial State of the Union address Tuesday night is the same one he's seen on the basketball court.

"He plays basketball a lot like he handles the presidency," he said. "He's a leader on the floor. He's a lefty, which means he's difficult to guard; he's crafty. And he's a good teammate. But mostly, he's a down-to-earth guy."

Stewart recalled the first time he played with Obama.

"The guys were a little in awe of him," he said. "He scored three baskets pretty quick, including a drive to the hole. After the last one, he said, 'Is anybody going to guard me? Because I'm going to keep scoring.' He knew exactly what to say to loosen people up. I think he'll do the same with the country. And the way the economy is going, we need somebody to loosen us up."

As their pickup game ended, someone asked the president if he'd consider staging the next pickup game at Camp David. Obama replied, "It could be sooner than you think. Stay tuned."

But before that, there's a rumored game developing between Obama's Democrats and the Republicans, who are supposed to have our own U.S. congressman, Zach Wamp, on the team.

"Oh, I'd like to be a fly on the wall for that one," Stewart said. "That could be a bloodbath."

At the very least, the president probably won't be asking if anyone is going to guard him.

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