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. Lee From Treasure Island Florida

    I am an Obama supporter. Frustrated at the 'politics' being played in this race, the spin by Media, and Hillary and a Former PRESIDENT disgracing another democrat and bringing down the party. But thats politics. I thought Obama had this sewn up, but here in the 21st century with 24 – 7 media coverage loving a good fight, a crazy pastor, a mis-statement, and playing the race thing with no regard to what else is going on in the rest of the world, just WHY CAN'T OBAMA FINISH THE DEAL. Its like throwing gasoline on Hillarys fire. So endorsements of Bobby Kennedy, Babe Ruth, Gandi, and Mickey Mouse wouldn't matter...what the media spins does.

    April 25, 2008 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  2. Val

    Amen Johnny Boy.
    I've never seen such a ruthless conniving woman.
    It's sad, but when i meet a Hillary supporter...i automatically think they must be nuts. Thankfully, i don't meet that many!!!

    April 25, 2008 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  3. Support in PA

    I do not understand the disjoint between Obama's message of "hope" and the constant malicious postings by his supporters. Clearly, you don't like Hillary, but your comments don't oppose her policies, it is purely on your perception of her as a person. With a few exceptions, we haven't attacked Obama in that way.

    My decision to vote for Hillary was she has clearly articulated her positions and has solid plans to fix America. It is that lack of substance that troubles me about Obama, and why I lean to McCain if he gets the nomination. Hope is fine, but the way Washington and the rest of the world operates is not going to magically change if Obama gets elected. We need experience...we need solid direction.

    If you want to change our minds then post with something more than rhetoric that Clinton is evil and the rest of the nonsense that is spewed.

    April 25, 2008 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  4. SPH

    We are witnessing the destruction of the Democratic party. Obama should run as an independent.

    April 25, 2008 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  5. KIRBY



    April 25, 2008 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  6. Dan in CO

    Many of them (1 in 7 in PA) actually admitted that they are voting race.

    How many are voting race that aren't admitting it? Vastly more.

    I have zero sympathy for the Kentuckians, Pennsylvanians, Ohioans and West Virginians who say that the economy is their #1 issue, but then give their support to McCain over Obama, especially those that also give their support to Clinton over McCain. They deserve McCain and whatever Republican policies he ushers in.

    Clearly their #1 issue isn't the economy, it's race.

    April 25, 2008 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  7. Levae

    Racism is so deep.

    April 25, 2008 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  8. Susan MO

    Obama is a great baskball player. Here goes Hillary...

    Obama's slam dunk

    Go home Hillary and bring your supportes with you

    April 25, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  9. Peg

    I agree with Johnny Boy......not much will change until June, but I am hopeful Indiana is NOT another Ohio. I know it is not another Pennsylvania because it isn't full of elderly people and Hillary doesn't have the family ties and Dem machine (except for Evan...who's a real cutie...but boring and wrong in his politics).

    So, Obama, stay focused on the prize and play the game to the finish. Be smart, don't make stupid remarks, but quickly "fight" back if you're attacked. And PLEASEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE not more debates. I'm still furious at George and will never watch This Week again. I hope his rating fell to an all time low.

    April 25, 2008 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  10. Ernesto Lopez

    I guess we can expect Hillary to say in here campaign that she used to play in a basketball team in her school the same way she said she used to play in a junior soccer team in high school(the school Hillary was attending didn’t have a soccer team). Then maybe someone will ask her when was the last time she played and she will answer with something like: "that is not relevant right now"

    April 25, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  11. tim

    I never thought I'd agree with someone named Johnny Boy, but I do. I finally see why Republicans so despised the Clintons for eight years. They never back down, always burn forth, and spin and spin and spin, refusing ever to talk straight. It's very ... frustrating.

    With that said, if Hills is the nom (and I have my fingers crossed she won't be), I'll be rooting for the duo to pull the same tactics on McCain. I'd rather have her than another Repub in the White House.

    April 25, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  12. Ga Mike

    Obama is clearly the next President of the United States. Hillary knows this. He has shown the leadership, savvy, genius and motivation to ignite the electorate with his upcoming 50-state strategy. Unlike Clinton, McCain and other talking heads, he isnt talking about the red, blue or purple states but the United States.

    It's amazing to hear Hillary talk about the big states needed to deliver victory in November. That's Washington politics of old. Here's the bottom line:

    Fact: The Republicans didn't win one Democratic incumbent seat in the mid-term elections in '06. They understand the far-reaching effects of an Obama Presidency for Congress with his fund-raising ability and 50-State Strategy. The formula to beat Clinton is a lot easier based on her short-sighted campaign. She lost 10 straight contests to try to win 2 big states and she is still operating in the RED!!!

    Obama '08

    CNN - Please post this!!!!

    April 25, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  13. Tamika

    Why isnt the media covering why the Clintons had to go L.A. today? The public desreves to know.. google paul v Clinton

    April 25, 2008 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  14. Young & Educated 4 Obama

    Pack it up Hillary! Its a SLAM DUNK!!!!!

    April 25, 2008 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  15. Michael

    Obama can win both states. Hopefully he will.

    Yes We Can 2008

    April 25, 2008 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  16. P Graber

    I think these young men should just stick to playing basketball.

    A vote for HIllary Clinton means never having to say you're sorry to the citizens of the United States of America.

    April 25, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  17. Mike

    I have gathered some numbers based on the democratic primary to show what will happen in November if Obama is the nominee.

    The democratic primary is different as it shares delegates based on percentage but in the general election it is winner takes all in each state. Each state won is that many delegates to winning the overall count. So if we treat the democratic primary just like the general election this is what we are looking at against McCain.

    I have taken each state that has won by Obama or Clinton and given all the delegates of that state to the majority winner. I even gave Obama all the upcoming states and made him the winner giving him the delegates from them. I did not include Florida or Michigan to avoid any argument. This includes Guam and others that are counted in the democratic primary. This is only actually won states and future states given to Obama:

    Obama won 37 "states"
    Hillary won 17 "states"

    However in a general election setting:

    Obama delegate count: 1486
    Hillary delegate count: 1750

    If you count Florida and Michigan which Hillary won and polls show that even if Obama campaigned in those states Hillary would have won them at that time:

    Obama delegate count: 1486
    Hillary delegate count: 2118

    If we gave Florida to Obama and Michigan to Hillary as polls suggest a primary today would give them:

    Obama delegate count: 1692
    Hillary delegate count: 1907

    The bottom line is that Hillary has won in a general election model based on primaries of the democratic party and even giving Obama all the next primary states coming up. The reason Hillary won is she won all the big states practically? These states are historically won by the Republican party as to why Bush beat Kerry in 2004. Therefore if Obama cannot win the big states that Republicans tend to win he has no chance against McCain in the general election. Hillary has the only chance of being a democratic president in 2008.

    So do you want a Republican in office or do you want a Democrat? The choice is clear who is more electable in November.

    April 25, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  18. Gwen NC

    Go Heels and Go Hillary, unaffiliated in NC for Hillary, I don't think it's going to be a blowout here for Obama like he thinks. I'm predicting he might get it by 2 or 3 %. I trust that Hillary won't give away our country, sorry I can't say the same for Obama, that's what it comes down to for me, his lack of character strength to make a tough decision. I've tried and tried to consider voting for him if he's the nominee because I don't want a republican, I just won't be able to. I don't think he's strong enough to stand up for this country, he didn't stand up for it in his own church against those strong willed people = he's not as strong as them.

    April 25, 2008 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  19. P Graber

    I think these young men should just stick to playing basketball. They don't seem to know anything about politics.

    A vote for Hillary Clinton means never having to say you're sorry.

    April 25, 2008 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  20. Ric

    It isnt about "winning" anymore. Clinton is going to walk away from this having left 1/2 the Democrats wondering if the Super delegates picked the wrong candidate. Come November, we should have an answer. We will all have to live with that answer. Brace yourselves for the worst.

    April 25, 2008 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  21. steph

    You got that right. Hillary won't stop. IF, and that's a Big IF. If she was to some how win due to her calculations only. She will probably be too tired to do anything in the White House due to all this fighting. My concern is will Bill Clinton be running things again. Because he's doing more campaigning then Hillary seem like. 2 against 1. No, 3 against one... Bill, Hillary, McCain vs Obama.

    Obama is truly bringing about change. It must be really intimidate Hillary and McCain after all these years of the same old politics. And Young candidate upsets the way things use to be for them. But, that's what Hope and Change do to you. It shakes things up. "Go Obama"

    April 25, 2008 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  22. terry in Fl

    To put it in basketball analogy.....The game is on the line. The stakes are high. Do you put in the unproven rookie or the seasoned veteran? Why would you treat the presidency any differently? The rookie may have some pretty fancy moves but if he doesn't make the shot then it's pointless.

    Unfortunately we have become a nation that love's hype and flashiness. The fancier the better. But this country was built on the strong, the solid and just plain determination of plain people. And the only way this country is going to survive is to maintain our strong foundation. Hillary Clinton is a proven entity. She's solid and unbreakable. We know that. We are witnessing that on an everyday basis. Obama has crumbled. His followers have crumbled. The flashiness is falling apart like a cheap dollar store trinket. Every citizen in this country has an obligation to make the right choice for our future, Our well being. You wouldn;t trust your baby with a stranger. Why would you want to trust your and your families entire future to be handled by a man with absolutly no experience and who can do nothing more than utter uh , uh, uh...when asked the hard questions?
    Forget the hype. See through it. Trust your gut with what you KNOW. Life as you know it may depend on it.

    April 25, 2008 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  23. Chriss

    Anyone who plays ball, or any sport for that matter, knows there are rules to be followed, not changed or the end goals changed to suit desires or change the score if the end doesn't come out the way we want them to.

    Time to give Hillary the time off to rest she so desparately needs so she suffers no more delusions about sniper fire, for whom she was named, her daughter at the twin towers on 9/11 …

    Indiana and North Carolina, please do your part to help this poor woman.

    Vote Obama!

    April 25, 2008 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  24. duhawk

    jonny boy are you kidding me? osama i mean obama is the one that is ruining the dem party. he is deviding the party by playing the race card whenever it suits him.

    April 25, 2008 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  25. Walls

    Hillary Clinton all the way!

    Why choose Obama so he can tear down this country with his Muslim roots? He's a chicken! He's a wimp! He don't want to sling mud because he knows he has too much on his back that would easily tarnish his reputation. Put the man on a podium with a prepared speech and he rocks the house. Throw him in a debate and he studders more than anyone I have ever heard in my life. THAT is inexperience for you. Now he wants to run around and say "lets campaign instead of debate" because he don't want himself handed back to himself in another primary.

    PA and Ohio seen right through Obama's lies and they see him for the inexperienced man that he is that does more talking about stuff he knows next to nothing about instead of stepping aside and giving the nomination to a woman that deserves it way more than he does. It's that typical male ego that cannot be destroyed.

    Hillary Clinton 2008!
    It's not yes we can.. it's YES WE WILL!

    April 25, 2008 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
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