On the Basketball Court, The R’s and D’s Are on the Same Teams
A Message From Bobby
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By Philip Rucker, The Washington Post, March 27, 2008
It was the marquee game of the season. The basketball coach paced the sidelines, spouting strategy to his team and talking trash about his opponents.
“Give me a rebound,” he yelled to his star player.
“Uh oh, double dribble. Look at the guy get away with doubles!” he shouted to the referee, tattling on the opposing team.
You know you’re watching a special game when the coach is a 61-year-old Maryland delegate and his star hoopster is the balding chairman of a legislative subcommittee on gambling revenue.
In what is becoming an Annapolis tradition, delegates took on senators for an annual basketball game. Last year, the delegates prevailed. But Tuesday night at the Anne Arundel Community College gymnasium, the senators proved more nimble, skunking the delegates, 56-41.
Who was named most valuable player? The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, Allan R. Kittleman, a Howard County lawyer who scored some magical three-pointers.
Who attended in his business suit to cheer the delegates from the sidelines? Jay Walker, a freshman Democratic delegate from Prince George’s County who is a former quarterback for the New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings.
And who was the referee? A lobbyist, of course. Bernie Shaw, who lobbies for the Maryland Troopers Association, wore a black-and-white striped uniform for the occasion.
After what he said he were some questionable calls, Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks (D-Baltimore), who coached the delegates, shouted out: “Bernie, what bills you got in the Senate?”
A few years ago, some lawmakers started getting together to shoot hoops each week. Some days, they just practice; other times, they play community teams. But delegates and senators (and a few aides) face off against each other only once a year, at the end of the 90-day legislative session.
The players say it helps them relax and build camaraderie.
“It’s nice to have something other than politics to talk about,” said Kittleman, who frequently strategized with the senators’ coach, Sen. David Harrington (D-Prince George’s), and the team’s all-star, Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County).
“The R’s and the D’s are on the same team,” Kittleman said. “It’s great.”
For some lawmakers, playing basketball helps them stay in shape.
“It’s a good way to get exercise. Geez, we sit around in our committee hearings all day,” said Sen. Alex X. Mooney (R-Frederick), who belly-flopped early in the game but came back to score key points.
Also making some big shots was Del. Frank S. Turner (D-Howard), who chairs the gaming subcommittee.
“Frank Turner! Frank Turner!” cheered Del. Michael L. Vaughn (D-Prince George’s).
“Look out for Turner,” Walker warned the senators.
“Flashes of brilliance,” Vaughn shouted.
By the end of the game, Turner, 60, was exhausted. “I sure feel my age today.”
Walker, last year’s MVP, tore his hamstring and could not play this week. But the 6-4, 260-pound former NFL player attended anyway, cheering and jeering from the sidelines with Vaughn.
Walker even pulled Mooney aside to try to persuade him to support his bill to expand physical education classes in public schools.
Asked to compare his General Assembly colleagues to his former teammates, Walker laughed.
“Let me put it this way: They’re a lot less athletic,” Walker said. “We’ve got linemen who are a lot more athletic than 95 percent of these guys out here. But Zirkin can play.”
Zirkin, who played junior varsity basketball at Johns Hopkins University, is the chief organizer of the legislative basketball outings. His teammates call him Bobby Z.
“It’s just great to get out here with all the guys,” Zirkin said. “We talk a lot of trash and play a little basketball.”
And talking trash they did, Oaks more than the rest. On Tuesday, the fiery coach sported a mustard-color velvet sweat suit, wore his Maryland Terrapins cap backward and hung a pair of sunglasses from his shirt.
With his team down more than 10 points before the fourth quarter, Oaks huddled with the delegates for a pep talk.
“If you don’t like what I’m saying, sit your [rear] down,” Oaks said.
“We let him do that,” said Del. Jon S. Cardin (D-Baltimore County). “If we let him coach, he won’t play. We don’t want him on the court. He’s a bad player.”
Then Cardin realized his comment might get him in trouble.
“If you’re going to say that, you’ve got to say that he’s a very good coach,” Cardin said.
Oaks was such a good coach that he agreed to deliver the championship trophy, which had rested in the office of House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert).
“You are an honorable man,” Zirkin told Oaks.