Barack Obama is collecting major fundraising support from a small, influential group never truly tapped before by a presidential candidate: the National Basketball Association.
The Obama fundraiser held Thursday night at the Orlando home of the Dallas Mavericks Vince Carter was only the latest example of the strong backing the president is getting from former and current NBA players. Chicago Bulls star and league MVP Derrick Rose spoke at one of the events kicking off Obama’s reelection campaign last spring. Former New York Knicks star Alan Houston also hosted a fundraiser.
A long list of players that included Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City), Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers) and Carmelo Anthony (New York) committed to play in an “Obama Classic” exhibition game last December that would serve as a campaign fundraiser. It was postponed amid the lockout but still supposed to happen this summer. Obama supporters will pay $200 for the lowest-priced seats, $5,000 to sit courtside.
The embrace by the players is not surprising; Obama is an avowed hoops fan and perhaps the most NBA-versed president in history. (Other presidents, including Bill Clinton, were big college basketball fans) NBA players are overwhelming African-American, and blacks are Obama’s most devoted supporters.
At the same time, it’s a new role for NBA players. Most of them speak little about politics. And it’s a marked contrast from the most famous player of the previous generation of the NBA, Michael Jordan, who in 1990 refused to endorse Harvey Gantt, a black Democrat in North Carolina running for the U.S Senate.
“It’s the Obama factor, I think Obama makes it easier for these guys to do campaign stuff given what he represents in the community,” said Cornell Belcher, a Democratic strategist who was a pollster for Obama’s 2008 campaign. “I think it’s a lot easier to do an event for what really is a historical figure and icon in their communities than it would be for another guy who is just a political figure. Obama is really a once in a lifetime kind of figure who isn’t viewed simply through the prism of politics, he is larger than that in their communities.”
Carter’s event, for which donors were asked to give $30,000 each (the money is split between Obama’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee) also included Paul, former players Alonzo Mourning, Steve Smith and Magic Johnson, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and NBA commissioner David Stern, who has a long history of donating to Democratic candidates.
Carter introduced Obama as “someone who I support who has done great in our community.” (Reporters were allowed to hear the remarks of Carter and Obama, but no video or photography was permitted)
Some other players, including Miami’s LeBron James, donated the money but couldn’t attend because they had games. Orlando is the site of this year’s NBA All-Star game, which will be played on Sunday.
More than their votes, Obama needs the players’ money. Some of his 2008 backers on both Wall Street and in Hollywood have soured on the president over his tenure, and the players are a new group to tap who can afford to give in large amounts.
“It’s a good cause. For as much as he’s criticized, I think he’s done a great job,” Carter said in an interview with ESPN before the fundraiser. “That’s a pressure situation to be in. It’s just an honor to even be asked among all the people in the world to ask. Even just in the Orlando area there’s a lot of prominent people who live there. I was asked and I was more than honored.”
Additional reporting provided by theGrio’s Todd Johnson
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr