Will Obama's Hoop Dreams Be Deferred This Time?

While he played, many a writer wondered if Michael Jordan – a man whose popularity could only be eclipsed by … well, Jesus – would ever use his profile to support any candidate for office. He was heavily criticized for not endorsing Harvey Gantt when the former mayor of Charlotte twice ran unsuccessfully against Jesse “Senator No” Helms in races for U.S. senator in North Carolina. You might remember the line, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

If I could be somewhat fair, he didn’t endorse any political candidate during his playing career. So while this story is a part of his legacy, it’s not as if he signed a pair of Jordans for the notoriously bigoted Helms as congratulatory gifts in two re-elections against Gantt.

Yet, while his endorsement of then-Senator Barack Obama received surprisingly little attention in 2008, it’s his participation in an elaborate fundraiser for the now-president in 2012 that has somewhat pulled this anecdote back to the public spotlight. Sure, you’re probably more fixated on a teenager’s hair, the fourth-place hurdler and low blows, but if not for the ongoing Olympics, the teaming up of Jordan and Obama would probably take the lion’s share of media attention.

His Airness and the Commander-in-Chief, a sight no one ever imagined.

In a presidential election year, candidates are more than willing to consider any (legal) option to their avail in order to appeal to voters. Sure, we don’t see baby kissing at this level of campaigning, but we do see candidates groveling for some sort of crossover dap.

This year, in particular, while both candidates have reached back to old friends and frenemies in politics and business, Obama is really hoping to recreate that magic of 2008 against Republican opponent Mitt Romney. Where you’d think some of his political victories in the last year would be feathers in the cap, he certainly believes that there’s still a goldmine in the use of athletes past and present. A look at all the president’s men (and women) is a cabinet of basketball excellence: Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Sheryl Swoopes, etc. Though he has strong support among athletes in other sports, there’s no question that the NBA and NBPA have his back like no other sports entity.

As for Romney, well, he’s got a former Oregon governor nominee in Chris Dudley.

Obama’s basketball passions are well-documented, and where his Hollywood allure may have dulled a bit over the last four years, he knew that grabbing some of the most visible athletes in the world could make up the apparent gap in campaign funds with Romney.

Now, honestly, it remains to be seen how this is going to work out for Obama. Political strategists, selective polls and unemployment reports still can’t capture the mood of the country quite like actually talking to citizens would. The idea that the support of a multimillion-dollar athlete could attract new voters or re-energize those who voted in 2008 seems plausible if this was about getting to know Obama. Unless student loan forgiveness and government jobs are attached, however, it’s hard to think that Jordan or any other prominent sports figure can duplicate the success of '08, considering how even more divisive our country has become.

It’s not a shock that this announcement was made as the Summer Olympics are coming to an end. Political advertisements have littered the Games because they provide the largest non-Super Bowl televised stage in the United States, reaching a wider range of Americans than your simple attack ad during an episode of Burn Notice. And with the potential increase of said ads coming soon to a college football game near you, both Romney and Obama find the use of sports too hard to resist. Yet, for the president, this is a more familiar arena.

In 2008, he used basketball to display an apparent cool factor with voters who grew used to political football and corny chatter about a candidate’s golf game. In 2012, one can argue that hoops have become too familiar, too trite, too … rich? ... for those on the fence about the president. In three+ months, we’ll know if Jordan has the same winning touch for Barack Obama has he had for Phil Jackson once upon a time.

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