Here are the most interesting things Obama said in his secret MIT speech

FILE- In this Dec. 5, 2017, file photo, former President Barack Obama address the participants at a summit on climate change involving mayors from around the globe in Chicago. A Democratic group backed by former President Barack Obama plans to invest millions of dollars in state-level elections in a dozen states this year, with its heaviest focus on Ohio. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
Former President Barack Obama.

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Those who attended an MIT conference in Boston last week had to adhere to something of a “Fight Club” edict: The first rule of seeing Barack Obama is don’t talk about seeing Barack Obama.

Looks like that rule has been broken.

The former president was touted as a speaker at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, which took place Friday at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and drew some 3,500 attendees.


But in an unusual move, event organizers prohibited anyone from posting anything — photos, video, even quotes or basic information — from Obama’s speech. Anyone who violated the rule would be removed from the conference and denied future tickets, organizers warned.

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But on Monday evening, the libertarian magazine Reason released the full audio from the question-and-answer session Obama had with event organizers Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, and Jessica Gelman, CEO of Kraft Analytics.

Here are some highlights from the hour-long session.

• He joked that he was only at the conference so he could visit his daughter.

Opening up the conversation, Obama noted that his daughter Malia was attending Harvard: “Let’s face it, that’s the main reason I came,” he joked, to some laughter — and groans — from the audience.

• He spoke about the importance of diversity in decision-making.

Obama spoke at length about having a range of opinions and diverse voices in his administration, pointing out that he retained holdovers from the Bush administration so he could remain informed on different ways of thinking about the war in Iraq.


“I wanted to make sure his voice was there to counteract the potential biases or the lens through which I might look at a reformed policy,” Obama said.

• He got in a few jabs at President Trump.

Although many of his answers had an even-keeled tone, Obama still managed a few knocks on Trump and his administration.

Getting a range of opinions ultimately leads to a better decision, he said, “as opposed to being obsessed with status or who wins the argument.”

He also said that while his administration had made mistakes, it had avoided major scandals. “I know it seems like a low bar,” he said to laughter and applause.

“I did have a strong bias toward people who just wanted to get things right, get things done, as opposed to people obsessed with, ‘I want to be right, I want to be prominent, I want to have my name in the headlines,’ ” he said.


And in the age of Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts,” Obama lamented that some people are not just divided over opinions, but over what constitutes authentic evidence.

“With the Internet, we have entirely different realities that are being created — not just different opinions, but different facts.”

He gave Robert Kraft a shout-out.

As Obama spoke about the polarization of the nation, he mentioned Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots.

“When we reflect on why are we seeing so much gridlock and venom and polarization in our politics, it’s partly because we don’t have a common baseline of facts and information. Other than the Super Bowl, you know, Mr. Kraft,” he said. After some confused laughter from the audience, Obama explained that the game marked “the only thing we watch together at the same time.”

He thinks he could have made a Division 1 basketball team.

Obama noted that he had potential as a basketball player in high school, and believes he could have played in college — at least as a bench player — if things had been different.

“If I had been really focused, dedicated, and obsessed, I probably could have been a benchwarmer on a mediocre Division I [college] team, like a walk-on kind of guy,” he said.

He recalled playing a pick-up game with a famous singer — who was absolutely terrible at basketball.

Talking about the importance of being self-aware, Obama told a story about how he played a pick-up game with a “well-known singer” who thought he was a king at basketball — except that, well, he wasn’t.

“The guy was terrible. His shot was broke,” Obama said. “He took like 25 shots and made like four of them. The game’s to like 21, so there’s only 30 shots to be had. Terrible. You could tell that ... this guy has no self-awareness. He thinks he’s good, and he surrounds himself with people who tell him he’s good.”

He had at least one criticism of the NBA.

When asked what he would change about the NBA if were the league commissioner, Obama gave a fairly forceful criticism of the way young athletes often play — unpaid — for a college team before they can turn professional. Obama said would favor a “well-structured” minor league for college-aged basketball players, in a model similar to baseball’s, so that “the NCAA is not serving as a farm system for the NBA with a bunch of kids who are unpaid but are under enormous financial pressure.”

“That won’t solve all the problems, but what it will do is reduce the hypocrisy,” he said, adding: “It’s not as if college basketball goes down the tubes because of it.”

He said life in the public sector was far more intense than life in the private sector.

“At least at the top levels of the federal government, people worked harder than in the private sector,” Obama said. “When I came out of the White House, everything looked like it was in slow motion. It was like I was Neo in ‘The Matrix.’ ”

He continued: “Our folks were putting in 80-hour work weeks and barely getting vacations a lot of the time,” adding that there was “unimaginable pressure.”

He thinks social media platforms have a higher calling than just making money.

Obama, who was an early adapter of using social media to mobilize his political base, said that he was aware that big networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google were tools: “ISIS can use that tool. Neo-Nazis can use that tool,” adding that more prominent companies “have to have a conversation about their business model that recognizes they are a public good as well as a commercial enterprise.”

He spoke about equal pay for women.

Obama said he thought the real catalyst for change on equal pay for women would come in the form of Congressional legislation. But he doubted that would happen in the current political climate.

In the meantime, he emphasized the importance of paying someone based on merit, not looks or gender, to an audience that included managers, bosses, and potential future executives.

“Let me speak to men in the audience: ‘You should be smacked across the head if you think women should be paid less,’ ” he said.

He had a tactic to make sure women’s voices were heard in meetings.

Obama told an anecdote about how during his time in office, he had a call-on policy to allow everyone to share their opinion.

“Guys are loudmouths, and oftentimes brilliant women would not always share their perspectives around the table in the same way or aggressively or talk over people,” he said. “One trick I had, I would call on people, I wouldn’t just wait for folks to volunteer. If you wait for who’s talking the most, it will be the same folks over and over again.”