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On the NBA: Campaign '08, NBA style

On one side: billionaire owners, the NBA's all-powerful commissioner and one of the game's all-time best point guards. On the other: Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and many of the game's current star players.

On one side: billionaire owners, the NBA's all-powerful commissioner and one of the game's all-time best point guards.

On the other: Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and many of the game's current star players.

But this pickup game isn't for beer or bragging rights; it's for higher stakes - 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C., whose current occupant will leave office one year from today.

With the 2008 presidential election in full swing, NBA players and officials are choosing sides in the wide-open contest. But most, according to donor search engines, have given to the Democratic front-runners, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama.

Republicans such as Sen. John McCain, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, also have received financial support from NBA-affiliated officials.

But Clinton and Obama have received the lion's share - unlike 2004, when President Bush took in about as much NBA love (Heat chairman Micky Arison and former stars Karl Malone and Clyde Drexler gave to the incumbent) as Democratic candidate John Kerry (NBA commissioner David Stern and Nuggets coach George Karl).

"Hillary and Obama are both very intriguing to me," Portland coach Nate McMillan said last week. "I want to hear more. I think both of them, right now, would certainly be better than where we are."

Professional athletes of this era often are reluctant to publicly support political causes or candidates, knowing that in doing so they're sure to alienate someone. But this campaign seems to be different.

"I think we have some talented candidates," said Celtics guard Ray Allen, who is leaning toward Obama.

"And we have some people that I think this country is excited for, given the future and the direction our country is going in. I think a lot of people in this country look forward to it. I think we all believe and feel that some new things need to happen. There needs to be change."

Clinton's NBA connections are headed by Charlotte Bobcats owner Bob Johnson, the former BET owner who has, according to online financial records, donated to Clinton campaigns nine times since 2000, including $15,000 for her initial Senate run.

(Johnson apologized to Obama on Thursday after alluding to Obama's acknowledged past drug use while campaigning for Clinton last weekend, calling his remarks "very inappropriate.")

Stern, who has, according to, donated nearly $875,000 over the years, almost all to Democrats, gave the maximum individual amount allowed, $2,300, to Clinton's campaign last year.

(Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie also gave Clinton $2,300, after giving $2,000 to her Senate re-election campaign in 2006.)

Clinton also received the maximum $2,300 contributions from Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen, Knicks chairman James Dolan and Kings co-owners Gavin and Joe Maloof. Utah Jazz center Jarron Collins gave Clinton $500.

"We've never met Obama, but we respect Mrs. Clinton and everything she's done for us," Joe Maloof said by telephone Friday. "We're Democrats. They're both great candidates . . . but they were so nice to us during our political days with my brother (Hillary Clinton campaigned for Phil Maloof when he ran for Congress in 1998), we really want to show our loyalty to them."

Some NBA stars have hedged their bets.

Miami's Alonzo Mourning and Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, who campaigned with Clinton in Nevada last week, gave to both Clinton and Obama. Bulls chairman and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf gave the maximum to Obama, while giving $2,000 to McCain and $1,000 to Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden, who dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses.

Obama has reached a cross-section of players, coaches and team executives. His maximum contributors include Jackson, the Lakers' coach; Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck; Knicks guard Stephon Marbury; Suns forward Grant Hill; Atlanta Hawks guard Josh Childress; Warriors guard Baron Davis; former 76ers president Billy King; Hawks general manager Billy Knight; and Bobcats president Bernie Bickerstaff.

Jordan, who gave Obama $10,000 for his Senate run in 2004, gave Obama $2,100 this time around. Rockets guard Mike James ($2,000) and Hawks forward Marvin Williams ($1,000) also contributed.

Giuliani has the backing of Nets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe, who gave the maximum $2,300, and Orlando Magic chair Richard DeVos, who donated $1,000.

Romney is the favorite of Celtics president Danny Ainge, who gave the maximum $2,300 to the campaign (as did Eagles coach Andy Reid last year). DeVos gave Romney $1,000.

"I've known him for 25 years," Ainge said of Romney by telephone. The two met while Ainge played in Boston in the early '80s and Romney was working at the consulting firm Bain & Co.

"I've seen him in action," Ainge said. "I think he's a great human being. I've seen him as a father and a husband. We have a lot of mutual friends, a lot of Democrats who would even vote for him, even with his conservative views. . . . I think he's a great man, and I think he'd be a great leader. I think he was almost born to do this."