NBA and NFL largely represent opposite ends of political spectrum

theGRIO REPORT - While individual current and former players are open supporters Democrats, such as Julius Peppers, Dhani Jones, Brett Favre, and Rodney Peete, a majority of pro football's biggest spenders lean right...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Vince Carter is no stranger to making waves during NBA All-Star Weekend. His epic performance during the 2000 NBA Slam Dunk contest earned him the nicknames “Air Canada” and “Half-man, Half-Amazing.” This year, he earned a new nickname: presidential fundraiser.

Carter, who is in his first season with the Dallas Mavericks, held a $30,000 per plate fundraiser – “Hey, I didn’t make the prices,” Carter told ESPN — for President Barack Obama at his Florida home on Feb. 23. Guests included Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, former NBA stars Alonzo Mourning and Steve Smith, and Los Angeles Clippers’ guard Chris Paul.

“For as much as (Obama is) criticized, I think he’s done a great job,” Carter said. “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.”

Carter is the latest in a long line of NBA players and officials to support the president. Numerous NBA starts have openly supported the president since 2008, including Paul, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Grant Hill, and Carmelo Anthony.

Allan Houston, who spent 12 seasons in the NBA with the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks, has previously held a fundraiser for Obama. Last year’s MVP Derrick Rose also spoke at Obama re-election event.

“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,” Cornell Belcher, a Democratic strategist and a former pollster for Obama’s 2008 campaign, told the Grio. “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.”

This continues a long-standing trend of the NBA collectively being one of the biggest contributors to Democratic causes. According to research by the Center for Responsive Politics, since 2009 the league’s players, owners, and executives have contributed $2.6 million to federal candidates and political committees.

Of the $2.6 million that has been donated, 61 percent — or $1.6 million — has gone to Democrats. The biggest single donor to Democratic causes has been NBA Commissioner David Stern.

Since 2009, Stern — who also was in attendance at Carter’s fundraiser — has given nearly $312,000 in contributions to help Democratic candidates. In 2011, he gave the maximum legal gift of $30,800 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Other generous Democratic donors include Miami Heat ($250,000), Boston Celtics ($212,000), Sacramento Kings ($192,000), and the Milwaukee Bucks ($147,000). It should be noted that Democratic U.S. Senator Herb Kohl owns the Bucks.

The most notable exception is the Orlando Magic, which is owned by Amway magnate Richard DeVos. The DeVos family is a well-known contributor to the GOP. DeVos’s son, Dick, unsuccessfully ran the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in Michigan’s history in 2006, losing to Democrat Jennifer Granholm.

Other NBA contributors to the GOP include Spurs owner Peter Holt, Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley, former Cleveland Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund, and Atlanta Hawks owner Alex Merulo. The Pistons were the only team to give an equal amount to Democrats and Republicans, at $34,500 each.

While the NBA has been one of the biggest supporters of Democrats and has become the most liberal leaning of the four major sports leagues, the National Football League and its PAC have made $2.8 million in political contributions since 2009, with 58 percent — or $1.6 million — going to the GOP.

Since 2009, four teams — the Houston Texans, San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, and New York Jets — have each given at least $100,000 in political contributions with the bulk going to Republican candidates. Texans owner Bob McNair leads all NFL owners, having donated $215,200 to Republican candidates since 2009.

Notably, the Detroit Lions — owned by William Clay Ford — were one of the top GOP contributors, giving 87 percent of their political donations to Republican candidates. Ford’s son, Bill Ford Jr., is CEO of Ford Motor Company, which was the only Big Three automaker not to take a bail out.

Only four NFL teams — the Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, and San Francisco 49ers — donated 100 percent of their contributions to Democrats. The Pittsburgh Steelers, as a team, gave slightly more money to Republicans than Democrats, but principal owner Dan Rooney donated $24,400 to Democratic candidates and was named an ambassador to Ireland by President Obama in 2009. The Green Bay Packers – the only publicly owned team in professional sports — made no political donations.

While individual current and former players are open supporters of Democrats, such as Julius Peppers, Dhani Jones, Brett Favre, and Rodney Peete, a majority of pro football’s biggest spenders lean right.

President Obama has shown in his first term that he has a deep connection to sports, especially with his love for basketball. It could be that connection with the NBA that could help him in his bid to win a second term.

Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter at @JayScottSmith