WINDERMERE, Fla. (AP) — 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 nearby Orlando.
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.
Mark Cuban, the Mavericks’ owner, 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, Obama being 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 fundraiser capped a day hauling in campaign cash, taunting Republicans and pushing his energy policy in the face of rising gasoline prices.
Obama, appearing in a state he carried in 2008 and one he may need to win again to hold the White House, cast Republicans as protectors of the wealthy, telling supporters at a fundraiser that the GOP hopefuls seeking his job would leave everyone else to fend for themselves. His comments came after he had assailed Republicans earlier in the day for offering what he described as flawed and dishonest plans to lower gasoline prices.
“I’m here to tell them they are wrong about America,” Obama said. “Because in America we understand — yes, we’re rugged individuals. Yes, we don’t expect a handout. But we also understand we are greater together than we are on our own.”
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 in South Florida between the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks — including the Knicks’ emerging superstar, Jeremy Lin.
“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 on television 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 Lin, a previously unknown Chinese American Harvard University grad who has captured imaginations among fan and non-fan alike and given rise to a new emotion, “Linsanity.” The craze has reached the White House, with presidential spokesman Jay Carney confessing 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 Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. About 100 supporters paid at least $15,000 to attend the event inside Korge’s walled compound.
“We’ve got a good story to tell about the last three years, but I’m not done here,” the president said. “I need five more years.”
Last week, Obama took a three-day West Coast trip and raised about $8 million in eight campaign events.
Before his fundraising blitz, Obama spoke to a campaign-like crowd at the University of Miami to defend his energy policy in the midst of spiking gasoline prices.
He predicted his Republican rivals would offer nothing but more drilling and political promises of $2-a-gallon gas.
“That’s not a plan, especially since we’re already drilling,” he said. “That’s a bumper sticker.”
His trip to Florida came as gasoline has reached the highest price at the pump ever for this time of year: an average of $3.58 per gallon. White House advisers see it as a cyclical occurrence but knew Obama had to address the topic, one of deep concern to consumers and growing fodder for Republicans seeking to unseat Obama.
Obama said gasoline prices were “like a tax straight out of their paychecks.” He promoted an energy agenda of oil, gas, wind, solar, nuclear and biofuel energy.
And he took aim at Republicans.
“You can bet that since it’s an election year, they’re already dusting off their three-point plans for $2 gas. I’ll save you the suspense: Step one is to drill, step two is to drill, and step three is to keep drilling. … We’ve heard the same thing for 30 years. Well, the American people aren’t stupid.”
Obama insisted there are no short-term solutions to high gas prices, and that anyone suggesting otherwise was not being honest. Still, he sought to offer something to anxious voters by saying he had ordered his administration to search for every possible area to help consumers in the coming months.
He sought to take credit for rising oil and natural gas production, a greater mix of energy sources and decreased consumption. He promoted an energy strategy that the administration says will reduce dependence on foreign oil in the long term.
Republicans have seized on the issue, citing Obama’s decision to reject a permit for a cross-country oil pipeline as evidence of a misguided policy. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has warned of $5-a-gallon gasoline, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has said he could lower prices to $2.50 a gallon.
Obama aides worry that the rise in prices could reverse the country’s economic gains and the president’s improved political standing. A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows that though Obama’s approval rating on the economy has climbed, 58 percent disapprove of what he’s doing on gas prices.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.