April 25th, 2008
10:00 AM ET
12 years ago

Indiana and North Carolina: Where basketball and politics meet

Former UNC center Eric Montross was a big backer of John Edwards' White House bid.

Former UNC center Eric Montross was a big backer of John Edwards' White House bid.

(CNN) - The pageantry, the emotion, the packed gymnasiums - basketball fanatics in Indiana and North Carolina have seen it all before.

Democrats in both primary states are beaming about their newfound roles in this extended nomination contest, but long after the bumper stickers and campaign buttons are packed away, and when the awkward sports metaphors are nothing but distant memories, Hoosiers and Tar Heels will always have that familiar sound of sneaker-on-hardwood to fall back on.

Still, with politics and hoops now crossing paths, a handful of basketball icons have become caught in the moment, stepping off the court to endorse presidential candidates this cycle.

Here's a quick look at which basketball celebrities from North Carolina and Indiana have weighed in on the 2008 race, according to Federal Election Commission data and news reports.


Where else to start but with University of North Carolina legend Michael Jordan? The careful capitalist once sought to avoid politics, declaring in 1990 that "Republicans buy sneakers, too." But the greatest player of all time apparently leans Democratic - he has contributed $2,100 to another gym rat, Barack Obama.

Jordan's college coach, the vaunted Dean Smith, kept his money close to Chapel Hill this primary season, maxing out his contributions to former North Carolina senator John Edwards. Former UNC center Eric Montross (remember him?) also gave $4,600 to Edwards.

Edwards, a UNC law school alumnus and Tar Heel fan, has been spotted at a few North Carolina basketball games since leaving the race.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, a longtime Republican, has yet to officially weigh in on the race, but he has been spotted with John McCain. In 2006, Coach K - who is also the head coach of the men's U.S. national team - invited the Arizona senator to speak to the basketball squad about his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Former Duke stars Shane Battier and Grant Hill are both Obama backers - each has maxed out their primary donations to the Illinois senator.

No high-profile alumni from the Tobacco Road powerhouses of Wake Forest and North Carolina State appear to have contributed campaign cash to a presidential candidate this cycle.

As for the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats, the team's owner is BET mogul Bob Johnson, a high-profile Hillary Clinton backer.


Indiana University legend Calbert Cheaney, a native of Evansville, has endorsed Obama and is campaigning for him in the state. His legendary coach at Indiana, Bobby Knight, hasn't weighed in during the current cycle, but he was a George W. Bush donor in 2004.

NBA star Greg Oden, who played high school ball in Indianapolis and was named Indiana's Mr. Basketball in 2006, endorsed Obama earlier this year on his blog, saying, "He is a very nice man and I am a big fan."

Notre Dame alum and current Chicago Bulls general manager John Paxson gave $500 to Edwards.

Mel and Herb Simon, co-owners of the Indiana Pacers, each contributed $4,600 to Clinton's campaign. Mel Simon also gave $4,600 to Bill Richardson, and Herb Simon gave $2,300 to Chris Dodd.

Indiana basketball icons like French Lick native Larry Bird and former Purdue coach Gene Keady have not weighed in on the presidential race. Nor have voters heard from Hoosier heroes Keith Smart or Steve Alford, who are probably content to keep their sterling legacies intact among Indiana fans.

What do these endorsements mean? Given the track record of celebrity endorsements this election cycle, probably not much. At least not until Serge Zwikker, Randolph Childress and Tom Coverdale weigh in.

- CNN Political Producer Peter Hamby

Filed under: Uncategorized
soundoff (134 Responses)
  1. Exhausted candidates AND voters

    Basketball? Yeah that's ok, but it's really about football:
    Who will Tony Dungy endorse? (I wish I could underline and bold that)

    Since Tony is a reputable man who is highly regarded spiritually as a leader, that's the question that will actually have weight when it comes to Indy voters.. (no, I'm actually not kidding on this one.)

    April 25, 2008 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  2. edwin rivera

    I think thoughout the history of the American Presidency that the only First Lady ever qualified to be President was Elenor Roosevelt and Hillary is not Elenor Roosevelt.

    April 25, 2008 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  3. KB

    GO TAR HEELS!!!!


    GO OBAMA!!!

    April 25, 2008 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  4. Johnny Boy

    I am an Obama supporter, but just like Ohio and now PA, I will not hold my breath for an Obama victory. I thought that the voters of those states would see the queen for what she really is, a liar. But they still vote for her and she keeps going on destroying Obama's chance. I thought PA and Ohio would be objective and smart in their decision, but they did not. So in the end I hold out hope that will be the finial straw, but as we have seen, she will stop at nothing to destroy my party and my country. So I have decided that nothing will change until June when the supers have to decide. So I'll see ya'll then!!!!!

    April 25, 2008 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  5. shaun

    No beer drinking, bowlin, bitter death hunting idiots here... Barack will finally be able to relate to the people. Lets see if hillary has a jump shot.

    April 25, 2008 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  6. DEE in fla


    OBAMA 08

    April 25, 2008 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  7. Mike in Charlotte

    If you are going to mentioned the despised DOOK and the univerisity of Chapel Hill Tar Heels, then mention the school with the largest fan base in the Wolfpack state of North Carolina, NC State. They may have had a couple of down seasons, and we know the Tar Heel biased sports media absolutely hates the Pack, but failure by your, or more importantly Obama and Clinton to understand the size of the NC State fan base is a fatial mistake if they hope to have a chance here in November.
    That being said, Obama in a landslide over Tar-Hillary.

    April 25, 2008 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  8. Raynett

    Grant Hill is an Obama supporter?? Wasn't his mother and Hilary Clinton roommates in college?

    April 25, 2008 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  9. Chuck in Alabama

    The last two sentences say it all, "not much."


    Stop making news and report it.

    April 25, 2008 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  10. Army Wife

    ======Vote Smart, Vote Obama======

    April 25, 2008 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  11. Joshua College Station Texas

    Sounds like everyone's for Obama or Edwards. Awesome.

    April 25, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  12. Jack Smith

    Clinton would be better than McCain, however she is like Bush in one regard: When engaged in a war she cannot win, on borrowed money, she does not just pull out.

    April 25, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  13. Fred up north

    Johnny Boy! I Agree With you!

    April 25, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  14. Walter, Long Beach

    American journalism at its finest. Who cares?

    April 25, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  15. After further review,Texas

    We need to hire a CEO for the job.One that can be fired as soon as he screws up,we shouldnt have to wait for years while they run the company into the ground or steal millions of dollars of our money.

    April 25, 2008 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  16. Dylan

    To the voters of North Carolina and Indiana: BE LIKE MIKE... and vote for Obama!

    April 25, 2008 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  17. Candi

    Please give money to Obama so we can campaign and stop the two Clinton's from stealing this election from someone who can really help put this country back on track.

    Obama 08

    April 25, 2008 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  18. Stacy Clarks, TX

    While everyone comes on here and say so what?!?! who cares about celebrity endorsement blah blah blah...

    no one is tellign you how to vote, its just simply fun to see who endorses who and who gave to who.....

    we need some kind of diversion from all the negativity!!

    OBAMA 08!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 25, 2008 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  19. Julie MN

    Obama is destroying Obama!

    And I dont think he will win at all if his supporters keep calling people names, just because we are not taken in by his empty suit!

    April 25, 2008 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  20. Brett

    I was a huge Duke fan, but no longer. How can I support a coach who goes with McCain. Alas, I need a new school to root for!

    April 25, 2008 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  21. Pompey

    Uh oh. I can hear Hillary now... "I love basketball. You know, I played basketball when I was a young girl with my uncle. There were no women's team. I tried out for the men's team. I was good. But, it was a guy's sport back then so, I wasn't picked"

    April 25, 2008 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  22. Sharon Minnesota

    North Carolina and Indiana should be thanking Hillary for being able to exercise their right to vote. If the Obama supporters had their way, they would have been cheated out of the chance to have their say in this primary election.

    I for one am happy to see all the support for her in these respective states and am enjoying having a chance to see them in the national spotlight as they are right now.

    So, North Carolina and Indiana residence please show your appreciation by voting for Hillary in your primary's. She's on your side now and will be when she is our president next year.

    April 25, 2008 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  23. Marshall in Nebraska

    What does all this mean...Nothing. It is just as important as who Bruce Sprinsteen or another "star" is voting for. Don't let someone else make up your mind. Think for yourself NC & IN.

    April 25, 2008 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  24. Brian (in PA)

    Anyone whose vote is influenced by the endorsements of sports stars, or other celebrities, doesn't deserve the vote their rights guarantee.

    April 25, 2008 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  25. Ken

    The people of Indiana and North Carolina need to stop and smell the coffee.Not so long ago,Americans would have stood at arms against anyone who said or even hinted "GD America" and now here we are voting to nominate someone who though,He denounced comments to this effect,His pastor says he is a Politician and had to say that.Let us stop and think about that before we rush to the polls and vote for Obama.

    Hillary "08"

    April 25, 2008 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
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