11.08.2008

Basketball & Barack Obama

by Hayden Alfano

On election night, Steve Francis, the injured backup point guard for the Houston Rockets, wore this jacket on the bench. His teammate, Tracy McGrady wore these shoes. On the other side of the court, Boston Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett wore these.

This presidential election, more than any other, seemed to catch the interest of professional athletes. There are a variety of factors as to why this could be: the current sorry state of the U.S. economy, for example, or the country’s military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. But race is also a potential factor, and a pretty likely one at that, and it would be folly — not to mention untrue to the importance of the event — not to recognize it in the name of political correctness or anything else.

Professional sports these days are the domain of black athletes, and perhaps no league more so than the National Basketball Association (NBA), where Francis, McGrady, and Garnett ply their trade. Indeed, basketball is probably the blackest of sports, not just in terms of the numbers of players who play it at the highest level, but in its popularity all across the country.

For this reason and others, president-elect Barack Obama seems inextricably linked to basketball. His brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, is the head coach of the men’s team at Oregon State University, and the story goes that Michelle Obama would only continue dating her future husband after her brother tested the 44th president’s mettle on the basketball court. Obama's campaign caught the attention of plenty of NBA stars, such as McGrady, Garnett and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Baron Davis.
Also, during the campaign, Obama worked out with the men’s team at University of North Carolina.

However, throughout his campaign, Obama never presented himself as the so-called "black man’s president.” He represents change, and his race certainly reflects that. But in order to be successful, Obama must be everyone’s president — a fact that is surely not lost on him, considering his victory speech.

The sports media have been quick to jump on the connections between Obama and basketball. While I’m thrilled to have a basketball fan as president — us ballers tend to trust people who can play more than we trust people who can’t — I hope that the end of the campaign marks a significant slowdown in the number of articles in the sports pages linking him and roundball. He’s much more important than that.

Obama is already a historic figure: He’s the first African American president of the United States. He has the next four years (and perhaps four more after that) to make sure that’s not his only legacy. Portraying him as the ballin' president will only hurt the cause. Let’s hope the sports media, of all things, don't stand in his way.

(For other reactions to the results of the election, please see: "Election 2008: A Generational Change" and "2008 Election: Witness to History at the White House." For more on Obama and basketball, please see: "Barack Obama & NCAA March Madness.")

(The photo of President-elect Barack Obama shows him playing a game of pick-up basketball with members of the U.S. military stationed in Djibouti in 2006. This is an official U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Eric A. Clement. The photo is from the Department of Defense and therefore is in the public domain. To see a video of Obama sinking a three-pointer from CNN, please check below.)

















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