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After the hills of Afghanistan, Nixon to head for the hoops

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 22, 2009 - As soon as he returns from Afghanistan this evening, Gov. Jay Nixon will be hitting the hoops this weekend as a contender in the basketball skills competition (free throws and perimeter shots) at the Show-Me State Games.

Nixon and his fellow competitors in the over-50 division will play in the Hearnes Center in Columbia on Saturday, at 12:30 p.m. The governor will compete in the basketball skills competition (free throws and perimeter shots).

Although he still has his height (between 6'3" and 6'4", aides say), the governor is 53, has had knee replacements and can no longer play the rough-and-tumble basketball games that he was known for. In his heyday as an athlete (including his early years as the state's attorney general), Nixon had a reputation as a competitive terror on the courts, willing to use his elbows to get at that perfect shot.

His penchant for the net also helped Nixon forge a lot of longstanding friendships and friendly rivalries among former teammates (such as Republican Kenny Hulshof) and competitors.

Back to the Show-Me Games. In a statement, the governor's office said that Nixon "previously has participated in the Show-Me State Games as a competitor and as a coach of youth teams."

The 25th annual Show-Me Games began last Friday, with Nixon featured in a videotaped welcome message (he'd already left for the Middle East) at the opening ceremonies.

The Games "are being held on three successive weekends at sites in Columbia, Jefferson City and Springfield,'' the governor's office said, noting that the "Show-Me State Games are the largest competition of their kind in the country."

“These Games showcase the skills of Missouri athletes and demonstrate the benefits of a physically active life,” Nixon said in a statement. “The competitors display the spirit of Missouri by giving their all, and by remembering that these Games are all about sportsmanship and fun."

If he still played, would Nixon challenge President Barack Obama -- a fellow basketball lover with a still-deadly three-point sho -- to a duel on the boards? Maybe a three-point battle, with some extra stimulus money on the line?

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.