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California's Newsom plays hardball in China, collides with student during schoolyard basketball game

In this photo provided by the Office of the Governor of California, Gov. Gavin Newsom plays basketball with children at a school in Beijing, Friday Oct. 27, 2023. (Courtesy of Office of the Governor of California via AP)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Politicians have long sought to project vitality, youth and a common touch by staging photo shoots spotlighting their athletic prowess. California Gov. Gavin Newsom is the latest to find out that plans for a confident jump shot can turn into a torrent of online potshots.

On a trip to China, the two-term Democrat took a detour from his official meetings on climate change to join a group of Beijing schoolkids for a game of basketball. Before long, he was on his backside after accidentally steamrolling a grade-school defender.

No one was injured, but Newsom joins a long line of political figures whose attempts at a sporty glamour shot didn’t work out as planned. In a similar scene, British politician Boris Johnson, then mayor of London, knocked down a 10-year-old boy while playing a friendly game of rugby on a trip to Japan.

Bill Clinton and Al Gore were needled for photos of them jogging in snug short-shorts while in office. In the 2004 presidential election, shots of Democrat John Kerry windsurfing were used in an ad mocking him as an unprincipled candidate who heads “whichever way the wind blows.” George W. Bush’s penchant for mountain biking occasionally ended up with him on the ground, including when he collided with a police officer on a trip to Scotland that left the officer with a bruised ankle and the president scraped up.

Video circulating online shows Newsom wearing slacks, an open-collared shirt and dress shoes while towering over schoolchildren on the court. The governor playfully twirls a basketball on a fingertip, then executes a spin move as he heads toward the basket.

When a boy in front of him appears to reach for the ball, Newsom seemingly does not see a second student on his left. The governor loses his balance. They collide and go to the ground together, but both come up smiling and the governor gives the boy a few back pats.

“I got you,” the governor can be heard telling the boy, as he gives him a hug.

The snarky reception online was predictable.

“Flagrant foul,” Fox News tweeted. “Newsom destroys kid during basketball game in China,” celebrity website TMZ tweeted. Other online comments ranged from “I can't stop watching” to a post calling the collision a “diplomatic victory for America.”

Newsom’s tumble provided a lighthearted — if embarrassing — moment on a trip that included a surprise meeting with leader Xi Jinping and was filled with warm words not seen in years in the strained China-U.S. relationship.

It appeared that his basketball stumble provided the broadest publicity he received on his visit.

Newsom was an athletic standout in his student days. He played basketball and baseball in high school and attended Santa Clara University on a partial baseball scholarship. An injury ended his playing career.

Newsom jokingly told the Los Angeles Fox News affiliate that he “needed to work" on his balance.