But he always loved a hard, fast-paced game of basketball. When he got to the White House, he assembled a mini-league of sorts of former college players and others who had serious game.
One ritual was that the crew always played on election days. The tradition began during Obama's first presidential election.
"When I was running in Iowa, we played and we won and then in New Hampshire we didn’t play that morning and we lost," Obama said on stage on Wednesday at a tech conference in Las Vegas hosted by identity security company Okta. "These were competitive games."
And he had a particular way to make sure that his teammates weren't just throwing the game to him because he was their boss and the leader of the free world. Obama was the master of smack talk.
"I'm a super competitive guy. I'm good humoured about it. I’m not mean. But if you lose, I will talk about how badly I beat you. Part of the reason was to make sure, people were not wanting to hear it and they would try really hard," he said.
One time, they were playing a game of old guys vs. the young guys "we beat them all the time because they weren't as smart as we were," he said.
And that's when one of the guys stepped up the physical blocking and elbowed Obama right in the face.
Obama went flying, hit the ground and split his lip. He needed 12 stitches. Michelle "had no sympathy" he remembered, because she thought the super aggressive basketball game was "really idiotic."
The best part was that the White House photographer caught the whole incident in "a frame by frame sequence of him elbowing me, knocking me down, and a bunch of people looking over me," Obama grinned.
"I had it framed and sent it to the guy who felt terrible. I said to Joe [Biden], 'the only guy who ever clocked the president and didn’t get arrested.' True story," he laughed.
But he confessed that he doesn't play anymore because the older he gets, the bigger the risk of injury. His last game was during the November 2016 election.
"The election didn't work out exactly," he said of Hilary Clinton's loss, "but I played great ... I think I was 4 of 6 from 3 [point line], I did a couple of spin moves. I was feeling outstanding."
And he dared a glance at his interviewer, Okta CEO Todd McKinnon. A tall, fit man who a year ago placed 14th at the world Cross Fit invitational games (McKinnon loosens up for his keynote presentation by doing walking handstands backstage).
"But I could still, probably take you, Todd. You look like you’re in great shape, but I dont know if you can ball," Obama said to a roar of laughter of the crowd.