The 'Rat-Ballers': Obama's High School Crew

Former friends talk about the 'Barry' they knew.

ByABC News
November 11, 2008, 11:01 AM

April 26, 2007 — -- The year was 1979 and Hawaii's Punahou High School basketball team was in the state finals, dominating, 32-11, at the half.

Out on the court was No. 23, but long before Michael Jordan made that number famous, another player was standing out for other reasons. His name was Barry Obama.

Sometimes called "Barry O'bomber" for his jump shot, that player is better known today as presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama. At least, that's how he's known everywhere else.

Obama's teammates Alan Lum and Dan Hale say those years with the kid they called "Barry" are some of their most memorable. The three friends were part of a basketball-obsessed group of students known as the "Rat-ballers."

"I mean in that forum of a basketball or a pickup game or you know, as a teammate. He just had something about him. He had this charismatic nature," Hale said.

And despite the nice suits and crisp ties Obama currently wears, both men say they still see him as Barry. "I see Barry, but he's a lot skinnier. And he looks good," Lum said.

With more than 3,000 students, Punahou is the largest private school in the country, and it sits on a lush, sprawling campus in Honolulu. And while the school is elite and wealthy, the young Obama was not.

It was the 1970s and Obama was one of the few black students on campus. The son of a white mother and black father, he attended Punahou on a scholarship starting in the fifth grade.

Obama's parents were divorced. He barely knew his father and spent most of his time living with his grandparents.

"For my grandparents, my admission into Punahou Academy heralded the start of something grand, an elevation in the family status that they took great pains to let everyone know," Obama writes in "Dreams From My Father," his memoir of those years.

"They were always here with him and I remember. I remember Grandpa being kind of a funny guy," said Pal Eldridge, Obama's former math teacher. "I mean he was always kind of a character, but you know, it was always good to be around him because he was always joking with people too."