The 2009 Mercury and President Obama. Willingham is over the President's right shoulder. Alex Wong/Getty Images News
Willingham Visits the White House
Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com | July 23, 2010
Monday's visit to the White House with the former Phoenix Mercury teammates who she teamed with to win the 2009 WNBA championship was many months in the making for Storm forward Le'coe Willingham. Going to the White House and meeting President Barack Obama had long been a goal.
"At the beginning of last season, all me and Bridget (Pettis, Phoenix's director of basketball operations) and Tan (Smith) talked about was, 'Let's win the championship so we can go and meet Obama!' That was our little thing the whole season."
So when the Mercury pulled it off, defeating the Indiana Fever in five games in the WNBA Finals, it wasn't Disneyland where the group was thinking about going.
"After we won the championship," said Willingham, "we shouted, 'We're going to meet Obama!' We were all happy about that, doing the happy dance."
Before the visit could become reality, Willingham left Phoenix for the Storm as a free agent. That made the logistics of getting to the White House a bit more complicated, though the Storm did its part to help her make it to Washington, D.C. and back to San Antonio in time for Tuesday's game against the Silver Stars, when Willingham played 22 minutes off the bench.
"Brian (Agler) was awesome to let me miss a practice and experience that," Willingham said. "Our ownership has been awesome, helping me get out there. It was just really a special moment for me, something that I felt proud to tell my godmom and my dad that I got to meet President Obama. That election was a really emotional election. It's something that I wish my grandmother was alive to see."
Because of the President's busy schedule, his time with the Mercury was relatively brief. He spoke about what good role models the Phoenix players, and others in the WNBA, are for his daughters before taking photographs with a Mercury '09 Obama jersey. President Obama also shook players' hands and congratulated them on the championship.
The team got a chance to tour the White House, something Willingham also got in 2008 when she joined her Phoenix teammates who had won the championship the year before her arrival in meeting President George W. Bush.
"It's definitely an honor," she said. "It's kind of surreal. On the flight back, I was thinking about a lot of things. These are things that we're experiencing in life that I never thought I would get to do. As a small kid, six and seven years old, you always write down, 'I want to be the President of the United States.' You want to do this and do that, but you never imagine yourself being able to do them.
"It just makes you feel blessed and really a lucky person. It's not just meeting the President and being in the White House, but everything we do and experience as athletes, going to all these different countries. These are things not a lot of people get to experience."