Barack Obama was back on sports-talk radio station WIP (610 AM) this morning, this time to talk mostly sports - including his bowling a 37 in Altoona on Saturday.

With his first question, host Angelo Cataldi took the conversation right into the gutter - as in gutter balls.

"What can I tell you?" the Democratic presidential candidate replied. "First of all, no excuses. I don't believe in excuses. I was terrible."

But then Obama added, with a bit of a deadpan delivery: "I only bowled five or six frames. I would have had at least a 60 by the time this thing was all over. That's been misreported and badly distorted in the press."

As he spoke, laughs came from the morning crew, including cohosts Al Morganti, Rhea Hughes and Mitch Williams.

The jovial tone continued throughout the 8-minute interview.

After Obama spoke about former Sixers legend Julius Erving - Dr. J - being a boyhood idol, Cataldi asked whether Obama would rather be the president or Dr. J in his prime.

"The Doctor," Obama, immediately drawing laughs. "I think any kid growing up, if you got a chance to throw down the ball from the free throw line, that's better than just about anything."

Later, Williams, a former Phillies pitcher, said that remark stood out for him, and summed it up this way:

"If given the choice to live in the White House or jump over it, he'd rather jump over it."

The discussion included the NCAA tournament, congressional oversight of sports, and which of Pennsylvania's NFL teams Obama likes more: the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Philadelphia Eagles.

Obama said he rooted for the Steelers growing up in Hawaii, but lately has preferred the Eagles, because quarterback Donovan McNabb grew up in Chicago and went to school not far from the Illinois senator's current home.

But, of course, Obama said, he's a Chicago Bears fan first.

The tone and substance of most of the interview was in marked contrast to the March 20 conversation that resulted in some negative national attention over Obama's use of typical white person" to describe his grandmother and her fears of young men on the street.

That interview came two days after Obama delivered a major speech about race at the National Constitution Center here.

The next morning, Cataldi said that Obama's people had arranged the chat expecting to talk about the college basketball tournament.

"Only now do I know he was really just calling to give us his NCAA picks," Cataldi said. "... I'm asking him about his white grandmother, and he wanted to talk about UCLA, about Duke against Belmont. What a disaster!"

This time, the conversation did mostly stick to sports.

It was true, he said, that while dating his wife, Michelle, she had him play basketball with her brother, Craig Robinson, a standout player at Princeton and now head coach at Brown University.

"Apparently I passed the test," Obama said. "I didn't realize I was under that kind of pressure. Otherwise, I might have choked."

During his recent bus tour of Pennsylvania, Obama said, he twice played basketball with U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, an Obama supporter.

"Casey's got a little bit of game. He's Mr. Fundamentals. He boxes out. The outlet pass. I don't know how much he can score. But he was a great teammate to have," Obama said.

While speaking of Dr. J, Obama said, "Doctor was the original. I had some of those Dr. J sneakers. I can't say I had the Dr. J haircut. The Afro never went out that far. And my jumping skills were definitely not the same."

The most political topic was brought up by Morganti, who wondered if the country needed a better system, like having a minister of sports, to deal with issues like drugs and cable TV.

Obama said laws should get leagues to police themselves.

"I'm not sure that I want Congress to be spending a bunch of time investigating steroids," he said.

Obama also talked about having picked three of the Final Four in an NCAA basketball tournament pool.

For the first time ever, the top four seeds face each other.

"I did not think Memphis was going to make it all the way, because I did not think these guys could make their free throws," Obama said.

Did he pick the University of Pittsburgh instead, to score points with voters with the April 22 primary coming up? Cataldi asked.

"I did not. I picked them because they were looking hot coming out of the Big East, and they let me down," Obama replied. "... That busted that part of the bracket."

Before and after the interview, Cataldi said that Obama's opponent, Hillary Clinton, has also been invited to be on WIP, but hasn't accepted yet.

Podcasts of both Obama interviews - today's and March 20's - can be heard at http://www.610wip.com/Angelo---Morning-Team/136181.

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.