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Richard Cordray thinks he’s a nerdy Kevin Love. Check out his game -- and white tube socks. (Video)

September 7, 2018

Richard Cordray thinks he’s a nerdy Kevin Love. Check out his game -- and white tube socks. (Video)

LORAIN, Ohio – Anyone who’s seen Richard Cordray on the campaign trail knows he’s a nerd.

The Democrat, who is running for governor, is known for his run as a five-time champion on the quiz show Jeopardy!, his esoteric Twitter account where he muses on an eclectic array of topics like the most popular watersheds and his uncanny resemblance to Kenneth Parcell – the overly anxious NBC page from the hit show 30 Rock. But unbeknownst to most, the normally placid politician has an alter ego that emerges in an unlikely setting: the basketball court.

On a sweltering Sunday night in an un-air conditioned Lorain gymnasium, Cordray invited cleveland.com to watch his hoop skills.

Cordray’s played pickup basketball since he can remember. He wasn’t competitive enough to play in high school – mostly because of his five-foot, six-inch frame, he said – though while he was studying at Oxford University – and after he’d grown into his current six-foot, two-inch body – he joined a semi-professional team that traveled around Europe and North Africa for games.

“We weren’t very good,” he conceded.

He continued playing after he went to clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White, including games at the basketball court on the top floor of the Supreme Court building that is sometimes humorously referred to as “the highest court in the land.” There he played against the likes of White and future Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, who he would set up for scoring opportunities.

“I would follow Rich around, and he would set a pick,” Kagan told Sports Illustrated. “And I would think, ‘O.K., Rich has now set a pick for me. I will try to hit a jump shot.’ And very occasionally, I would do that.”

Everywhere he went, Cordray played ball when he could. When he was elected to the Statehouse in the 1990s, he played against other legislators. When he went back to Washington in 2013 to head the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he found games against other administration officials.

“We had a game at George Washington University,” Cordray said. “We had a game at the Department of the Interior. We had a game on the East Side of town where our office ended up being. I played at the White House once, but Obama wasn’t there. It was disappointing. All over, wherever it was.”

Now that he’s back on the campaign trail in Ohio, he jumps at the opportunity to play when he can. So when Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer called and said he wanted to organize a game the Sunday night before Labor Day, Cordray was in.

Even though the game started at 9:30 p.m., the gym was inhospitable. The region was in the grip of a heat wave, with temperatures in the 90s late into the evening, and the court was no different.

The group of men and women roughly in the mid-20s to late-40s knew the second they walked in it was going to be a sweaty affair. Their only real relief was a single stand-up fan and a water fountain.

Cordray was excited. He doesn’t get to play as much as he used to, so he’d take just about any game he could fit in – even if it was stuffed between arguably the two busiest campaign days of the general election to that date, with Labor Day rallies and parades all over Northeast Ohio.

Before the campaign, Cordray said he got to play two or three times a week. “Now it’s zero-to-two days a week. It’s a good day when I play. They know that. It’s good for my mood.”

He still dresses like a nerd while on the hardwood, with white tube socks up to his calves and an old T-shirt tucked into his shorts, a far cry from the athletic apparel the younger players sported. He wears a pair of Allen Iverson sneakers, which Reebok hasn’t made since 2014 (and Cordray’s are clearly older).

But his personality while playing isnas much Alex Trebek as it is Kevin Love.

“I do not have a first step any more. Neither does Kevin,” Cordray said, echoing an answer he gave on an episode of the Ohio Matters podcast. “For me it’s post-up moves, one step, step back and shooting the three. Although I have an off-the-dribble three, which he doesn’t have.”

Cordray was able to hold his own, even though he was the oldest guy on the court at 59. One of his aides, Will Washington, who also played, described him as “elusive.” The group agreed.

“I don’t know where he is, but he’s going to sink it,”  Washington said.

He started a bit sluggish. He was reliable on defense, with quite a few rebounds and a turnover here and there, but a liability on offense. The low point of the games was air-balling a three-pointer.

However, after that miss, Cordray found his rhythm and started sinking buckets. He shot from the same place he missed and drained it. Then he hit another. He kept making his outside shots, including nailing a three-pointer to seal the game.

Once he found his groove, the notably soft-spoken candidate even shouted out what amounted to trash talk at this reporter after draining a pass from Ritenauer.

“You see this cooperation between state and local government?” he yelled louder than any speech he’s given on the campaign, playing off one of his campaign themes.

The games were over around 11 p.m. The crew was gassed and drenched with sweat and the politicians there – like Ritenauer and Ohio House candidate Joe Miller – had stumping to do in the morning.

Still, Cordray was pretty jazzed, cracking jokes on the bench with a sly grin and jovial tone.

“I think (most people) see me as a little bit of a nerd,” Cordray said. “I am a nerd, but I’m also a basketball player.”

By the time everyone walked out of the door, it was almost 11:30 p.m. Cordray had to be up in the morning for U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge’s Labor Day Parade in Cleveland before a full day of meeting voters at the Canfield Fair.

Why, then, stay up so late just for a basketball game?

“It’s just fun. ...” he said. “Everyone has goodwill out here. That’s different from politics.”

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