WASHINGTON—All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s (LSU) invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs, and lavish praise all around.
The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance.
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, nauseous, and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin 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 that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.
LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead.
Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited 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.”
After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.
“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”
A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the United States can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.
The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.
Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76–59, in April.
“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.