President Obama spent the morning of Veterans Day 2011 having breakfast with a group of veterans in the White House and speaking at a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. In the afternoon he arrived at aboard Air Force One to attend the Carrier Classic.
Obama was in San Diego in September, but on a much lower-profile trip. He flew in to Miramar for a , but since that didn’t involve the spectacle of a nationally televised basketball game held on the deck of an aircraft carrier it didn’t get as much attention. No word yet on which team the president is rooting for.
Activity buzzed onboard the Vinson even before Obama’s arrival. As game time neared, fans stopped Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who greeted sailors and veterans alike.
Basketball great Jerry West passed by a few minutes later.
Alums spotted by North Carolina and Michigan State fans include Tar Heel Tyler Hansbrough and Spartan Gregory Kelser, who played with Magic Johnson on Michigan State’s championship team 32 years ago.
Political bigwigs included San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts and Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, who wore a shirt with “Bob Filner for Mayor” stitched on it.
Military personnel were strewn throughout the crowd, and not just sailors, but a few wounded warriors who snagged prime spots courtside. One of them, Timothy Bleigh, sensed an upset was at hand. Most others believed top-ranked North Carolina would prevail.
The veteran of action in Afghanistan heard about the game while receiving treatment at Naval Medical Center San Diego. He sat in a wheelchair Friday; despite having made great progress during six months of therapy, he feared the Vinson’s steep stairs would be too much to tackle.
But he also was touched by the effort everyone had made to make the game happen.
“You can tell they put a lot of manpower into putting something like this together,” said the San Jose native.
Jim DeLozier, a Ramona resident who has spent 26 of his 28 years in the Navy in San Diego, brought his son Jacob and a friend to the game. He works on base in Coronado as part of the Naval Air Force Pacific command.
The North Carolina fan – though he's from Missouri originally, he embraced the university when Michael Jordan played there – raved about the setup before him.
“I tell you it’s like a basketball stadium without the roof. Unless you look over the deck or at the superstructure, you’d think you’re sitting in a college coliseum.”