A recent New York Times article profiled Obama’s relationship with basketball throughout this youth and into candidacy.
“He didn’t know who he was until he found basketball. It was the first time he really met black people,” said Craig Robinson, Obama’s brother in law, referring to mostly white educational environment.
The candidate has little time for his beloved hoops, but the campaign has capitalized on his abilities to help paint the picture of Obama as a man’s-man, a regular guy.
Obama’s press aids have drawn parallels between Obama’s skill on the court and his leadership skills in the political arena.
New Hampshire field operatives have organized a four-city basketball tournament to mobilize new voters, called “Hoops. Action. Change.”
The other candidates have also chosen teams and frequently seized opportunities to portray themselves as avid sports fans, delighted by the idea of spending an afternoon rooting for their home team.
For Hillary, the “home team” concept has been a little difficult to grasp. Her motivations drew skepticism in 2000 when, during her New York race for the U.S. Senate, she wore a Yankees cap to demonstrate her supposed allegiance.
“Everyone knew she [originally] was from Chicago and a fan” of the National League’s Chicago Cubs, “but [Clinton] said the Yankees” of the American League were also “her team," said NYT sportswriter Murray Chass, “Few people seemed to believe her”.
Obama has been more clear. Leading up to last year’s Super Bowl, the candidate wasn’t shy of talking a little trash, "I'm happy for New Orleans, I think it's a wonderful city, but this fairy tale ends when they come to Chicago next week".
The interview got a lot of publicity, and showed Obama as a real enthusiast, one that wasn’t likely to flip-flop when it came to the sports.
A love for sports can add a much-needed personality definer to the polished candidates. From John F. Kennedy’s sailing to Bill Clinton’s golfing, candidates have used sports to humanize their public personas.
The candidates must tread lightly to assure that their allegiance to their team or love of sports in general doesn’t seem phony. And even if their passions are accepted by sports fans everywhere, the presidential hopefuls will have to be careful not to choose sides too exclusively and risk alienating other supporters.