Bill Clinton photo

Remarks Honoring the NCAA Men's and Women's Basketball Champions

May 20, 1996

The President. Thank you. Thank you very much. You can sort of see that as far as this announcement today, I'm the Vice President. [Laughter] And Mr. Gore is taking the lead, with his justifiable pride.

I want to welcome the Members of Congress who are here, the presidents of these two great universities, all the coaching staff, and their supporters. I see the Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky over here and many other people who are supporting these two teams.

It is true that I am a—I suppose "a fanatic" would be too mild a word for it—basketball fan. And I tried to watch every game that was on television, at least part of it, during this tournament. It was a fabulous tournament, in both the women's and the men's divisions. The people who won should have won. But as the Vice President said, just because you're ahead and you're the favorite doesn't mean you always win. I hope everybody around here remembers that. [Laughter]

I want to congratulate the Lady Vols. They were terrific, especially down the stretch. Michelle Marciniak, their most valuable player, and all the team—they really—to win in the finals you have to play as a team. And I saw— I got a note from my staff before I came out here that says that there is a sign outside their locker room back in Knoxville that says, "Offense fills seats. Defense wins games. And rebounding wins championships." That's kind of the way it works around here. [Laughter] And I like that.

And I want to say again, as I did to you on the phone, Pat Summitt, we thank you for your winning ways, and we thank you for the values, the spirit, and the rules that you have followed all these years. You have got a formula for success as well as some exceedingly gifted young women. And we congratulate all of you. You've got a lot to be proud of.

Now, as you might imagine just from Washington, DC's, location and the number of people that work from the Federal Government, we've got a lot of people around here that went to the University of Massachusetts and Syracuse and all those places, you know. And I told everybody that the best basketball in America this year was in the SEC. We nearly had an allSEC women's Final Four. SEC did reasonably well in the men's division. And if we hadn't had to start all over again two or three times, we might have had even more in the Final Eight there.

And at the end, I remember—we have one of my staff members who thinks that there's a basketball waiting for him in heaven who lives in Massachusetts. And I said, they really are a team with two great guards on offense and defense, but unless Kentucky has a bad day, no one will get close in this final tournament. And we all know that Kentucky never had a bad day.

And I think one reason is—maybe the overwhelming reason is that even though they had fabulous players, many of which never got the individual recognition they deserve, they had a great team. And when you can consistently put 10 people out there that can shoot from anywhere and that can play defense as well as offense—I read, coach, I don't know if this is true, that no one averaged more than 27 minutes a game for the University of Kentucky. If that's true, that's a stunning statement about the fact that basketball is still a team sport.

Interestingly enough, I thought about you after I saw the clips from the last Chicago Bulls-Magic game because the Chicago Bulls stars didn't get many points that day, but the team played like a dream. That's the way your guys played all year. And that's why you're sporting that 80 percent winning percentage at Kentucky. And that's why Kentucky won the championship that it deserved. And I hope America will remember a lot not only about the stunning play of Tony Delk, who deserved to be the outstanding player of the tournament, but also about the teamwork that you exhibited all year long. And we congratulate you. Thank you very much.

Now, I would like to ask Coach Summitt and Coach Pitino to come up here and say whatever they would like to say and bring whatever players they would like to play, because I know all of you really came to see them. But they are all very welcome at the White House.

Thank you.

[At this point, Ms. Summitt thanked her University of Tennessee women's team for its efforts during the season and congratulated the University of Kentucky men's team for its success. She then introduced players Michelle Marciniak and Latina Davis, who presented gifts to the President and Vice President. Next, Kentucky Coach Rick Pitino congratulated the Tennessee women's team and introduced players Mark Pope and Tony Delk, who presented gifts to the President and Vice President.]

The President. I must say I liked having Mark up here. I was sort of standing in the shade back there—[laughter]—away from all the bright lights. It was great. What do you think? Hold it up.

Again, let me say—we're going to take formal little photos now with the two teams, and then we will have a receiving line in the next room. So we will break up, but before we break up, again let me thank these two great universities, these two great States, and the coaches and the teams.

I think that America likes March Madness and likes college basketball as much as anything else because it is both an individual and a team sport. And it has both rules and creativity, discipline and energy. And in that sense, it is sort of a symbol of what's best about our country when things are going well.

And I hope we can all remember that. We all need to live with rules and creativity, with discipline and energy, and we all need to remember that, however good any of us are, we're all on a team. And when we're on the team, the team's doing well, the rest of us, we do pretty well individually.

So thank you all for that, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 5:45 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Lt. Gov. Steve Henry of Kentucky.

William J. Clinton, Remarks Honoring the NCAA Men's and Women's Basketball Champions Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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