The five-year-long absence of professional basketball teams at the White House ended Monday, when President Joe Biden honored the WNBA champion Seattle Storm in the East Room.
“It feels good to be back in this place and to have our achievements celebrated in this way,” team captain Sue Bird told the President during the White House ceremony, according to the Seattle Times. “I’d be remiss and I wouldn’t truly be representing our league if I didn’t talk about the work that still needs to be done in our country and our communities. But also the work that we have been doing, and we’re going to continue to do it, because this team is special. And that’s what made the 2020 season so special.”
The visit, which follows the Storm’s 2020 WNBA championship, marks the first time since 2016 that a WNBA or NBA team has arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The tradition came to a halt during the Trump years, as the then-president criticized NFL players who kneeled during the national anthem and lashed out at star athletes.
“It’s sad in a way that no WNBA team has been invited in the last couple of years, and we know why,” Bird said, according to the Seattle Times. “It’s nice to have a president in the office who’s going to recognize women and their success.”
It’s worth noting that the Seattle Storm endorsed the Biden-Harris ticket prior to the 2020 election.
White House visits by championship sports teams were growing increasingly politicized before the Trump era. Tim Thomas, the Boston Bruins goalie and Tea Party supporter, as well as Matt Birk, a Baltimore Ravens lineman who opposes abortion rights, declined to attend the White House ceremonies honoring their teams’ championships in 2012, when Barack Obama was in office. So despite the reappearance of professional basketball teams at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, we’re likely to see additional players or teams skipping these visits for political reasons again in the future.