Don’t even bother asking Reggie Love about that infamous card game that he and President Barack Obama reportedly played while Navy SEALs were en route to Abbottabad, Pakistan, with orders to kill Osama bin Laden.
Because the only thing Love was willing to say during an interview about his new book, Power Forward: My Presidential Education, is that the entire story had been “overblown” in the media.
Maybe he’s still instinctively shielding Obama, but Love wouldn’t divulge anything further about what really went down that night, only saying—when I asked him if the president can, as they say, play his hand, or if he overbids or underbids—that Obama is actually “a very good spades player.”
“When he’s focusing, he’s good. When he’s not, sometimes there’s some slippage,” the 33-year-old North Carolina native chuckled before he confessed, “In all fairness, I’m the same way.”
Those are the kinds of little gems that he divulged during our 40-minute conversation about his time spent as President Obama’s personal aide.
Love stayed on as the president’s “body man” during Obama’s first term and left in 2012 to pursue a career in business. Now that Love has caught his breath—a bit—and is no longer hopscotching from state to state and hotel room to hotel room, making sure Obama is sorted out and where he needs to be, Power Forward is his opportunity to reflect on his upbringing and his experience as a basketball player for national powerhouse Duke, which prepared him for his White House role. And he says he’s a better person after spending something like 15 hours a day with Obama over the course of several years.
Yep, 15 hours a day.
And some element of Obama’s style must have rubbed off on Love, since he sounds, well, presidential. I stopped him midway through one of his responses and asked if he had undergone media training, or if he naturally spoke with the same cadence, intonation and mindfulness that sound eerily like a well-trained politician—or, more specifically, like Obama.
“Oh, man,” Love said. “You know my friends tell me the same thing?” Then he added, “I do get made fun of. I never used to have these hand gestures.”
Apparently he’s developed a habit of gesticulating like the president, too.
Then there’s the stuff that Obama learned from Love. Putting Obama on to Jay Z is one well-known example, but there were substantive lessons, too.
Right after Obama was elected president, there came the task of appointing people to his Cabinet and getting them confirmed—a process that Love described as slow and challenging. Some of the individuals Obama picked had made somewhat controversial comments during interviews in years prior, or forgotten to make mention on their tax forms of a babysitter they had employed—presumably never thinking that they’d one day be asked—by the first African-American president, no less—to serve in the Cabinet.
Love described how he advised Obama to chill, and to remember that not everyone always held themselves to the same standards as Obama—a guy who’d been a visible political figure for quite some time by that point.
“‘You know you can’t hold people to the same expectations that you hold yourself?’” Love said he told Obama. “‘You’ve been on campaigns, you have this down very well, and a lot of people didn’t have the same level of scrutiny.’”
Love said he’s aware, and at peace with the knowledge, that he’ll likely never go on to do something as momentous as work on the campaign that elected the country’s first black president.
“I think that there will not be anything as historically significant that I’ll go on to do,” he said. “I don’t even make decisions around trying to replicate how I was on the presidential campaign that elected the first African-American president.”
When asked if he’d ever run for office, Love said that he doesn’t have a “huge desirability today” to get into politics, but hinted that if he ever runs, “being engaged in the process is important.”
“I would not try to write the next 32 years of my life,” he said. But sounding just a bit like an Obama-style politician himself, Love vowed to continue to do things that would have an impact on his friends, family and community.
If you want to work for Obama, he said, you have to be smart, hardworking and humble, but also have a “decent sense of humor.”
And that is best illustrated when he writes about the time he first bought a pack of peanuts for Obama, having first taken the job and not knowing what particular kind the then-senator liked. Love got into their limo, handed Sen. Obama a pack that contained an assortment of nuts and other snacks—and Obama cherry-picked the stuff he wanted and handed the rest of the contents right back to Love.
“Here you go,” Obama said, indirectly teaching Love a lesson about paying attention to detail.
“Oh, I got my Ph.D. in the White House,” said Love. “Hands down.”
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features expert advice with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.