Reporting from Washington — Presidential politics can be rough-and-tumble, but it was a friendly basketball game on Friday that gave President Obama a cut on his upper lip requiring 12 stitches.
Playing in a post-Thanksgiving holiday pickup game with visiting family members and administration aides, Obama was on defense when a player turned into him to shoot and elbowed him in the mouth, according to the White House.
The culprit was Reynaldo Decerega, 38, director of programs for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the White House said.
"I learned today the president is both a tough competitor and a good sport," Decerega said in a prepared statement. "I enjoyed playing basketball with him this morning. I'm sure he'll be back out on the court again soon."
The little-known Latino activist became something of an instant celebrity.
In September, Decerega was chosen by MillerCoors as one of 12 leaders who've helped strengthen Latino communities across the country. A caucus webpage said that Decerega took part in a leadership program arranged by Spain's government and attended an executive education program at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Elbow and lip collided in the last of five short games played at Ft. McNair, about a 10-minute drive from the White House.
Pictures showed Obama standing near his motorcade in a gray T-shirt, holding a piece of gauze to his mouth. The president was driven back to the White House, where he was given a local anesthetic and treated. The medical staff used a procedure that required more stitches than usual in hopes of minimizing the scar.
Of the nine people playing hoops with Obama, the White House identified three: Education Secretary Arne Duncan, personal aide Reggie Love, and Obama's nephew, high school senior Avery Robinson.
Robinson's father is Craig Robinson, brother of the first lady and coach of the Oregon State University men's basketball team. Oregon State is in town for a game Saturday against Howard University.
The team took a tour of the White House on Friday and was supposed to meet the president. But because of Obama's mishap, the players visited with Michelle Obama instead.
Though he has played more golf than hoops since taking office, the president is an avid recreational basketball player whose pickup games are known to be tough.
Obama played high school basketball in Honolulu. Love played basketball and football for Duke University, and Duncan played professional basketball in Australia.
Some who've competed against Obama said the players jockey for rebounds and challenge him when he drives the lane. Obama bruised a rib on the day of the Indiana and North Carolina primaries in May 2008 when Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias knocked him to the floor.
Love, in a 2008 interview with the Los Angeles Times, said: "There've been a couple of plays where you see him go down and you're just like, 'Oh, man. That could be bad.'"
On the day Obama accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in Denver, he sat out a pickup game as a precaution.
In a comment that proved prophetic, an Obama friend, Alan S. King, said at the time: "There was a particular concern about not wanting him to turn up with a busted lip.''
No one likes stitches, but the injury might serve as a politically helpful reminder that the 44th president doesn't want for machismo.