BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU's national champion women's basketball team will accept an invitation from President Joe Biden to visit the White House.
University spokesman Michael Bonnette confirmed LSU's intentions on the matter on Thursday, a day after Tigers star forward Angel Reese suggested during a podcast interview that her team should celebrate their title with former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama rather than President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden.
Reese made the suggestion after saying she was not inclined to accept an apology from Jill Biden for suggesting that both LSU and runner-up Iowa be invited to the White House. President Biden did not follow through on that idea, inviting only LSU and men’s national champion Connecticut.
Vanessa Valdivia, a spokesperson for Jill Biden, has said the first lady had meant no disrespect to LSU and that her comments were intended to applaud the historic game and all women athletes. With its 102-85 triumph over the Hawkeyes, LSU's point total was the most ever scored in a championship game by a single team. The 187 combined total also shattered the previous mark. The game also drew a television audience of 9.9 million, a record for an NCAA women's title game.
There is currently no set date for a White House visit, Bonnette said. He could not confirm whether all players and coaches would be able to attend.
At an appearance in Denver on Monday, Jill Biden had praised Iowa’s sportsmanship and congratulated both teams. She also said that as part of the longstanding tradition of having champions visit the White House, Iowa should come as well “because they played such a good game.”
Reese on Monday called Jill Biden’s suggestion “a joke.”
Some social media commenters noted the racial dynamics involved, saying that only winners should be rewarded with a White House visit and that hosting both teams would detract from the achievement by LSU’s team, which is predominantly Black. The Iowa team is largely white. Others noted the important role of Black women in Democratic Party politics.
President Biden was Obama's running mate and vice president for eight years. Obama, meanwhile, actively campaigned for Biden in the 2020 election.
Following LSU’s victory, coach Kim Mulkey said she would go to the White House if invited. Reese said Wednesday she was uncertain if she would go.
Reese faced criticism on social media for mockingly waving her hand in front of her face while staring down Iowa star Caitlin Clark near the end of the game. Clark, The Associated Press Player of the Year, made a similar gesture to no one in particular during Iowa’s victory over Louisville in the Elite Eight.
Reese said she didn’t think LSU, had it lost to Iowa, would have gotten the same praise from Jill Biden as the Hawkeyes did.
“If we were to lose, we would not be getting invited to the White House,” she added. “I remember she made a comment about both teams should be invited because of sportsmanship. And I’m like, ‘Are you saying that because of what I did?’ Stuff like that, it bothers me because you are a woman at the end of the day. White, Black, it doesn’t matter, you’re a woman, you’re supposed to be standing behind us before anything.”
During LSU's championship parade through campus on Wednesday night, a smiling Reese continued to wave her hand in front of her face, in between waves to cheering fans, as she sat in the back of an orange convertible Corvette.
Reese's expressiveness on and off the court has sparked increasing interest in her. According to Canada Sports Betting, Reese gained 500,000 Instagram followers in the two days after LSU's national title triumph, pushing her total of followers above 1 million.
Reese also has been touted by high-profile athletes with global followings. Seven-time Formula 1 champion driver Lewis Hamilton posted a photo of Reese on his Instagram page. And when the Memphis Grizzlies visited New Orleans this week, star guard Ja Morant made the short trip to LSU's Baton Rouge campus for a meeting with Reese that was posted on social media.
More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25