Love him or hate him after nearly four years in office, one thing is for certain: Barack Obama is the first basketball president – a fact that could curry lots of favor with Generation X and Y voters in a celebrity-charged election.
Sure, Bill Clinton was lucky enough to enjoy his home-state University of Arkansas’ 1994 victory in the NCAA Tournament and play host to the Dream Team in ’92. Sure, guys like George W. Bush, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon were often more erudite when discussing sports than, you know, politics (check out “Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72” for Hunter S. Thompson’s interview with Tricky Dick, an interview which Thompson was told could only be about NFL football). And the Kennedys surely won popularity points for their picturesque family touch-football games.
However, no US president has leveraged sports fandom on an international scale like Obama. (Check out BallinEurope contributing writer Enrico Cellini’s piece on his pet project, tracking Obama’s basketball diplomacy moves.) And the president’s preference for basketball represents the rise of the NBA and to some extent NCAA hopes during David Stern’s reign as the big league’s commissioner.
(Is it any coincidence that Obama came to professional prominence in that hometown of the 1990s’ Incredibulls? BiE thinks not.)
For the sports fan, Obama’s well-publicized devotion and concomitant election marked a shift among commanders-in-chief similar to post-war presidents: JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford and George W. were all unabashedly football-first guys while Ronald Reagan rode his turn in the Hollywood flick “Knute Rockne All-American” to win the battle of sound bites against Jimmy Carter. Statesmen such as these took over from the Tafts and Roosevelts who were naturally proud to show off their eternal devotion to “America’s pastime,” i.e. baseball.
In 2008, Obama and his basketball entered the White House to change sports and the presidency forever.
Whatever else his legacy, this president will certainly leave behind the reality that, when speaking to sports fans (at home in the ‘States or in any country, it seems), basketball will have to be mentioned.
As we head into the last day of the 2012 campaign, Obama is naturally working those basketball muscles for votes. A few notes show the president’s efforts to get out that hoops-centric vote.
• Getting attention from as far afield as India, the president’s handlers have confidently assured that he’ll be keeping one promise: “President Obama will spend Election Day in Chicago. In the morning and the afternoon, he will participate in a dozen satellite interviews in battleground states … Tuesday afternoon, [he] will honour his Election Day tradition of pickup basketball with friends and staffers.” Apparently, Obama has told People magazine among others that this pickup game is “his lucky charm” going into elections.
• While stumping in Ohio on Sunday, where else would Obama address 13,500 people besides at the University of Cincinnati Bearcats’ arena?
• Also from the weekend, here’s Brooklyn Nets co-owner Jay Z stumping for Obama and deftly substituting “Mitt” for “bitch” in one of his more well-known ditties.
• Will David Stern vote for the incumbent? As a longtime dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, it’s extremely likely. On the other hand, we know that El Jefe doesn’t necessarily believe that the Prez has game: “He’s not as good as he thinks,” proclaimed Stern in late October. “He’s a lefty [and] he goes the same way every time.”
• Lebron James, one of the NBA’s most popular tweeters, announced his 141-character endorsement of Obama recently, garnering the King a few more lines of press. Other hoops luminaries publicly backing the president include Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Baron Davis, Grant Hill, Kyrie Irving, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Greg Popovich, Doc Rivers, Alonzo Mourning and, perhaps most importantly for his ability to, say, generate $3 million for the Obama reelection campaign, Michael Jordan.
• (For comparison’s sake, The Sporting News noted that as of late August, 19 from the NBA had contributed a total of just over $50,000.)
• And before you cynically note that the great majority of NBA ownership and management types are in Mitt Romney’s camp, note that Joey Crawford endorses Obama.
• Incidentally, Obama and Romney have faced off (sort of) in games of one-and-one and PIG. You can likely guess the outcomes of both, though it must be said that ol’ Mitt is not entirely without game. After all, it’s tough to play hoops with no vertical leap – not to mention wearing a full suit.
• The Official BallinEurope Fearless Prediction™: Are you ready for this? Upon initial consideration, BiE came up with a 269-269 tie as Obama wins in Ohio, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, while Romney takes Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada and Iowa.
Plausible enough? Maybe. But BiE certainly can’t imagine a second Election 2000-like snafu – and gods help the ‘States if they throw a tiebreaker to the well-disliked Congress. So we’ll flip Virginia, where the New York Times currently has the president leading by two percentage points but has gone Republican in the last nine (!) elections, to Obama. Final tally: Obama 282, Romney 256.
(And remember: BiE’s Fearless Predictions™ in politics are just as accurate as those for basketball…)