A Conversation With the "Body Man" Who Spent Five Years at President Obama's Side
Reggie Love, 33, probably knows more about President Barack Obama than anyone other than his immediate family. He spent five years as Obama's "body man," an all-encompassing 24/7 job that required him to be by the president's side at basically every waking moment. In his new book, Power Forward: My Presidential Education, Love neatly sums up the role: "I was his DJ, his Kindle, his travel agent, his daughters' basketball coach, his messenger, his punching bag, his alarm clock, his vending machine, his chief of stuff, his surrogate son."
While Love's book mainly focuses on his unique relationship with Obama, he also talks about the important lessons he learned from his father while growing up, and he tells readers about the mentorship he received from Mike Krzyzewski, the basketball coach at Duke University, where Love went from lowly walk-on to captain of a Blue Devils team that won the national championship in 2001. After five years by Obama's side, he left the White House in 2011, received his master's from the Wharton School of Business and now works in the private sector.
Love recently spoke with Mic about his new book and his front-row seat to history on the 2008 presidential campaign and then inside the White House.
Mic: Did you talk to President Obama about how to tell the story?
Reggie Love: He knew that I was writing it, but it wasn't one of these things where he was like, "I want to talk to you about what you put in Chapter 5." He just said, "I'm sure it will be good."
Mic: You mention briefly in the book that the first lady gave you some romantic advice. What's the best relationship advice you've gotten?
I mean, given that I'm not married, I don't know if I'm qualified to give other people advice.
Mic: But you've been given a lot of advice.
Based off the advice that I've been given and given the fact that none of it has borne any fruit, I think what the first lady says is really powerful: You've got to find someone who's confident in themselves and that their overall health and well-being isn't 100% tied up into the relationship.
Mic: Tell us about basketball and how you selected who was going to be playing with the president.
Well, one, during the campaign when you're traveling around in Iowa and New Hampshire, you'll play with whoever you can find. We had to beg people to play on the campaign. I remember there was a day when we had to get a guy from the advance team to play and he didn't have any basketball socks, so he played in black church socks. And then sometimes we'd play with the Secret Service.
Later on, down the road, when we were in D.C. and [Obama] was in the White House, it was a competitive process. Are these good match-ups, are they fair? And we'd be like, "Well, that guy can't play because he can't guard anybody." We had that conversation a couple of times.
Mic: How about when President Obama [caught an elbow] and got stitched up?
That elbow set basketball back almost a decade. You know, we were playing basketball all the time until that day. It was really a sad day [laughs]. It was even funnier because before [Obama] got his stitches, I'd gotten stitches the year before, and the whole joke that he had was "It's better you than me."
Mic: People don't realize how backwards technology can be sometimes in places like the White House. Can you talk about what it was like for President Obama to try to keep his phone after he was elected?
It's less that they're backwards and very, very cautious about letting info into the wrong hands. I mean, he was the first president to carry a Blackberry. [It was a process,] just because of all the security issues, because of what people are able to do remotely to devices. In terms of technology as a whole, there's no Wi-Fi in the West Wing. I can't remember the last time I went anywhere where there was no Wi-Fi. But all that is about security.
Mic: What's something you learned while working for President Obama that stayed with you afterwards?
I learned a lot about different cultures globally. I think I was in 60 countries within the time he was president. I got a chance to get a different perspective on how people see the U.S. and how people are living outside of the U.S.
Mic: What was the most interesting place you visited?
In terms of history, it would probably have to be the Cape Coast in Ghana, where we visited one of the main castles where the ships would come in and out, sort of the main point for the slave trade in the 1800s. You kind of go through and see all the places where people were held captive and the reason why they chose that particular point.
"Just because things don't happen the moment people become focused on it doesn't mean that no impact has been made."
Mic: How do you think young people should position themselves to be successful in politics in the long-term, so they can make a big difference into their 40s, 50s, 60s?
The main thing is they have to one, work with people that they like, that they respect and admire. I think they also have to be passionate about the thing that they're working on. And they have to be patient.
Our culture, our generation, we're so used to having this instant gratification. If you look at the evolution of African-Americans or LGBT communities, there are no overnight solutions. Just because things don't happen the moment people become focused on it doesn't mean that no impact has been made.
"Sometimes we just don't always see ourselves in the light in which we actually are."
Mic: Of all the stories in the book, which is your favorite?
Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.