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NBA Players Back Obama, But One Smart Exec Is For Romney

President Obama is very popular among NBA basketball players. In addition to the basketball-themed fundraiser that he attended on Wednesday in New York featuring Michael Jordan and current Knicks star Carmelo Anthony (who, conservatives have been happy to note, made a risible “Stop Snitchin’” video several years ago), there was also a recent fundraiser hosted by Dallas Maverick Vince Carter and attended by Magic Johnson, Chris Paul, and LeBron James, at $30,000 a plate.

But it's worth noting that support for the President isn't ubiquitous in the National Basketball Association. According to a list of NBA-related donations compiled by the site HoopsHype, Mitt Romney is fairly popular among league owners and executives. And as tempting as it is to think of this as a classic management vs. labor divide between the political parties, it would be foolish to dismiss the analysis of one Romney donor in particular: Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets.

Morey is revered as a pioneer of the statistically savvy approach to basketball—he is roughly the NBA’s equivalent of Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics general manager profiled by Michael Lewis in Moneyball (indeed, Lewis has also written about Morey). Additionally, Morey is an active cultivator of advanced statistical sports analysis, having co-founded the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. And there's some reason to believe that sabermetrics can be a fruitful tool in analyzing politics: One fellow practitioner, after all, is New York Times elections-predictor Nate Silver. 

Morey's technocratic bent would suggest that he ought to support Obama, the level-headed, technocratic, “whether [government] works” president, who as a candidate in 2008 ran a Moneyball-style campaign. So why is he donating to Romney?

Surprisingly, the answer has little to do with Romney’s positions, many of which “I disagree strongly with,” Morey said in an email (one data point: he recently officiated at a same-sex wedding). Unsurprisingly, Morey’s support—and he is no late-bloomer; he gave his first $1,000 in May 2011 and his largest amount, $5,000, in January, when Newt Gingrich was surging—derives from a counterintuitive theory of how people should determine which candidates they support.

“I believe people focus too much on policy when making political decisions and not enough on selecting the best leader for the country,” Morey wrote. A sports analogy? Why not! “I would not select a head coach primarily because I agree with his choices for pick and roll coverage. I would select a coach who I thought would be the best leader of the team. His XO coaching philosophy would be important to the selection but not the most important selection criteria.”

As evidence that Romney would prove the superior leader, Morey cited the “significantly more experience leading effectively” Romney has had, over a “diverse set of organizations.” Mr. Romney: the whole Bain thing has not totally backfired after all.

Meanwhile, partisans of either side won’t find much to brag about among the other NBA donors. NBA commissioner David Stern, whose attitudes toward labor (both the players’ union and, back when he was a lawyer in private practice, other unions) aren’t particularly admirable, attended Carter’s Obama fundraiser. On the other hand, Pat Riley, the evil mastermind behind the Miami Heat’s Big Three (not to mention the Los Angeles Lakers’ copious championships in the ’80s), is a Romney backer. He is joined by Knicks owner James Dolan—the guy who just let Jeremy Lin walk (to Morey’s Rockets)—and hapless Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who presumably wrote his $4,000 check in Comic Sans font