Though he "had this kind of reputation of being an effete Easterner, he was actually a very talented athlete," James Madison University's Watterson said. "He persistently ran during the campaign and was not reluctant to let the press know that. ... He used athletics to try and make himself into a regular guy."
Richard Nixon, apparently not very athletic, nevertheless was known to exude sporting charm by dazzling people with his knowledge of sports trivia, Boller said.
Unlike Obama, Nixon even had the bowling thing down -- sometimes bowling alone at lanes installed at the White House, Watterson said.
But when it comes to physical fortitude, there also are cases of presidents remembered -- metaphorically speaking -- for their gutter balls.
In 1841, 67-year-old William Henry Harrison sought to prove his youthful toughness by dressing lightly for his inauguration, Boller said, but instead he died of pneumonia later that year.
Franklin Pierce was mocked during the 1852 campaign as "the fainting general" because he'd passed out in battle during the Mexican War -- he managed to win the election anyway.
Herbert Hoover once bobbled a baseball he was supposed to throw out as the first pitch, Boller said.
"They didn't make much of it at the time," Boller added. "It was in the depths of the Depression and people were thinking about other things."
Republican President Eisenhower's golfing outings became a focus of Democratic venom leading into the 1960 campaign. But it turned out that the Democratic candidate also was a golfer.
"[John F. Kennedy] went out of his way to hide his passion for golf," Watterson said. "Once the election was over he came out of the closet, so to speak."
And anybody who watched Chevy Chase on "Saturday Night Live" in the 1970s knew that President Ford was a klutz, right? Not so, many experts say.
"Gerry Ford was one of the most athletic of our presidents," Boller said. "Yet because he slipped once getting off the plane ... the image built up of a guy who could barely walk around. I think it was a bit unfair."
Once elected, presidents have brought their sports passions to the White House.
According to Watterson, Nixon had the bowling lanes, Eisenhower and Clinton installed putting greens, FDR put in a swimming pool and George H.W. Bush put in facilities for horseshoes.
The current President Bush holds tee ball events on the White House lawn and often rides his mountain bike at the Camp David presidential retreat.
So would a President Obama make waves if he installed a basketball court?
Probably not, if it's done on a small scale at little expense, Watterson said.
"I couldn't see a basketball court" indoors, Watterson said. "But if you just put in an outdoor basketball net, who's going to really care? It might get a little publicity, but it wouldn't last long."