On a table at the ambassadorial residence in Lower Hutt there is a photo of the new US Ambassador to New Zealand, Mark Gilbert, and US President Barack Obama holding a basketball.
They had just finished shooting hoops. It's probably not the done thing for an ambassador to gloat about beating his President but Gilbert has raised enough money for Obama to get away with a bit of ribbing.
He demurs for a bit then finally can't resist. Gilbert did beat his President. "[Obama] couldn't buy a hoop that day."
The competitiveness is a relic of his baseball days - Gilbert is a former Major Leagues baseball player, including a stint with the Chicago White Sox. His induction into the New Zealand way of sport began quickly- he went to the Cricket World Cup match in which the Black Caps walloped England.
He was not overly familiar with the nuances of the sport but he could appreciate one aspect: Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum and his bat. "It was like watching Babe Ruth. Boom! Six runs, four runs, six runs. It was incredible." Gilbert arrived in Wellington with wife Nancy a month ago, more than a year after Obama nominated him to succeed David Huebner.
It took the Senate a very long time to vote on the nomination. Mrs Gilbert says that Simon, the family's old King Charles Cavalier spaniel, was the chief victim. Simon does not qualify for diplomatic immunity so he had to go through the pre-quarantine tests three times before the vote was held.
The Gilberts clearly spent some of that time studying how to compliment New Zealand. Within 10 minutes, they praise The Lord of the Rings, the outdoor lifestyle, the wine, the friendly people and the sports.
The tension in the relationship between the US and New Zealand has eased over the past decade after agreeing to disagree on the nuclear-free stance. Gilbert points to joint defence efforts such as anti-piracy efforts and the Pacific Rim exercises. New Zealand has also just committed to send military trainers to Iraq and he welcomes that but acknowledges the split in public opinion.
"Almost anywhere you're going to have some split opinions about these types of issues. In any democratic society, that's going to happen. We have split opinions about it in the United States also."
He points to the potential the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement has to grow the two countries' economic relationship as well. "If, during the time I'm here, those relationships get so strong that small little issues never bother it, I think that would be a great accomplishment."
Inside the entrance to the residence is a massive Chuck Close portrait of Obama, signed by both Close and the President. It was one of only 10 prints made, sold as a fundraiser for the Obama victory fund.
A banking executive at Lehman Brothers and its post-collapse reincarnation, Barclays Wealth, Gilbert was one of Obama's key fundraisers for his two successful presidential campaigns. Obama asked Gilbert to be part of his team in 2007 and he agreed, one of the earliest backers of Obama's bid.
"I called Nancy that night to tell her this is who I'm going to work for. I had a dinner with Hilary Clinton coming up and I said, 'Well, I'm not even going to go to the dinner - this is the right person'. Everybody thought I was crazy and said the man had no chance and you should be supporting Hilary Clinton."
I laugh at this rather unambassadorial tale of snubbing Clinton. He quickly adds Clinton is very impressive "and she would be a terrific President".
As for the chances of a visit to New Zealand from the big boss himself, Gilbert believes Obama will make it while he is President. Nancy is also hopeful of seeing the First Lady and Obama's daughters, who are "huge Lord of the Rings fans".
Somebody should warn Obama there is a basketball hoop at the residence.