The guy who famously elbowed President Obama during a pick-up basketball game never got invited back to play again, but he did get the president's autograph. Reynaldo Decerega is the 40-year-old programs director for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, and he played two games of hoops with Obama's regular workout crew one day in late 2010. Decerega works as a basketball trainer and coach in his spare time, and he knew one of the regular players. He was on the president's team for the first game; the second game he played, well, that didn't go over so well. A media firestorm ensued after Obama needed 12 stitches when he found himself on the receiving end of Decerega's elbow. (Not to be confused with the mysterious black eye the president showed up with on the campaign trail last year.)
There had been whispers, of course — whatever happened to Rey? — but no one ever landed the post-game interview. Until now.
"I've played basketball a million times in my life and I've never elbowed anybody," Decrega told Stan Grossfeld at The Boston Globe, who finally tracked down The Guy Who Famously Elbowed President Obama, two and a half years later. "So the first time I do this, it's to the President of the United States? What is the probability of that? Nil, right?" To hear Decerega tell it, the incident was simply a basketball play gone wrong:
“He was crowding me,” he said. “Instinctively, you crowd the person you’re guarding once he stops his dribble. And instinctively, as the offensive person, I felt the pressure, so I was trying to clear some space. You swing your arms to see what options you have.
“So I swung the ball from my left side to my right side. And in that swing — I’m obviously leading with this elbow — I hit him in the lip and he fell to the ground from the contact. And that’s a very surreal moment.
The press started hounding Decerega — getting the president to draw blood in not-horrendous fashion is something of an unprecedented incident, or at least a fun story — so he went into hiding. Decerega forwarded along a note of apology, which was released to the press, and waited out the storm.
For his gracious handling of the incident, President Obama forwarded along a gift basket to Decerega, with a picture inside. The picture: "Him guarding me, me swinging through, and then him holding his mouth," Decerega told the Globe. The president signed it, too. "For Rey, the only guy that ever hit the president and never got arrested. Barack." So there's no hard feelings. Except for, well, Rey still hasn't been invited back. He might never be.