WASHINGTON — All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House seemingly were forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team with smiles, hugs and lavish praise.
The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as Joe Biden heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.
“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”
The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.
LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and later rejoined the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.
After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.
LSU star Angel Reese, the Final Four most outstanding player from St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.
Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea, and the White House invited only the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number 46 to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.
Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”
“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”
“Every basket was pure joy, and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added. “We’ve made so much progress, and we still have so much more work to do.”