Obama raises cash with NBA celebrities

02/23/2012 10:59 PM

03/04/2012 7:26 PM

WINDERMERE, Fla. -- Reveling in his sporting element, President Barack Obama waded into the oversize embrace of some of the biggest names in professional basketball Thursday, raising money from current and former NBA greats and an intimate group of supporters drawn to this weekend's All-Star game in Orlando, Fla.

Obama indulged his NBA habit at the home of Dallas Mavericks guard Vince Carter, where about 70 guests gathered for a $30,000-a-person fundraiser. Among those invited were former L.A. Lakers star Earvin "Magic" Johnson, former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning and Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Obama embraced warmly as the president entered.

The group gathered in Carter's gymnasium, with the scoreboard showing 2012 on the clock and the score tied at 44, a reference to Obama, the 44th president.

"It's a nice gym," Obama observed, understatedly. "Vince said he left the other side open in case I wanted to get in a dunk contest with him. I told him I didn't bring my sneakers, so not tonight."

Obama thanked NBA Commissioner David Stern, also in attendance, for resolving the basketball lockout that delayed the start of the basketball season.

"I don't know what I would be doing with myself if I at least didn't have some basketball games around," Obama said.

The president headlined three campaign fundraisers in Florida, a traditional political battleground that could be key to his re-election hopes. But he had more than the November election on his mind.

An avid basketball fan, the president also lamented missing Thursday night's highly anticipated NBA matchup between the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks.

"I'm resentful I'm not going to the game tonight. I'm mad about that," Obama joked. "It's not right. It's not fair."

Obama did manage to watch the first half of the game aboard Air Force One. The plane -- a smaller 757 instead of his usual 747 -- landed in Orlando as the first half ended with the Heat up 51-47.

The Knicks have catapulted to national attention by stringing together a series of wins on the shoulders of emerging star Jeremy Lin, a previously unknown Harvard University grad who has captured imaginations among fans and nonfans alike. The craze has reached the White House, with presidential spokesman Jay Carney saying last week that Lin was the subject of presidential talk aboard Marine One, the president's helicopter.

Obama also raised money at the Coral Gables home of developer Chris Korge, a top fundraiser for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign.

Before his fundraising blitz, Obama spoke to a campaignlike crowd at the University of Miami to defend his energy policy in the midst of spiking gasoline prices.

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