Like sports fans everywhere, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders Monday perhaps put a bit too much weight on the outcome of a game. As the Golden State Warriors completed a historic series comeback and punched a ticket to the NBA Finals, Sanders said the stunning reversal of fortunes was a good sign for his chances to earn his party's nomination.
The Vermont senator is all but done mathematically in his pursuit of front-runner Hillary Clinton, but he has continued to pick up wins in several states, and California's June 7 primary could be a chance for him to win over superdelegates he'll need to take the nomination. Sanders related his presidential hopes to the success of the Oakland, California-based Warriors, who broke the record for regular-season wins this year, led by MVP Stephen Curry.
"They turned it around; I think that's what our campaign is going to do as well. [It's] a very good omen for our campaign," Sanders told reporters as he left the Warriors' arena in Oakland, California. The senator even told reporters that he thought his presence in the arena helped Golden State win, perhaps as some sort of good luck charm: "Absolutely! No question about it. They were losing, then in the third quarter they did fantastically well. What other explanation is there?"
Before the crucial Game 7 contest in Oakland between the Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder — Golden State needing just one more win to become only the 10th NBA team ever to recover from a 3-1 series deficit — a Sanders representative confirmed that the candidate would attend the matchup, in which the home team faced what experts thought was a "mathematical impossibility."
While Sanders certainly made political use of the highly anticipated Game 7, his interest in basketball isn't just a campaign convenience. He's often bragged about his elementary school basketball team winning the Brooklyn borough championship. At the very beginnings of his presidential run, the senator celebrated a New Hampshire primary victory by shooting hoops with his grandchildren in a gym. And the film shows that Sanders has an enviable spot-up jump shot.
"Is this some kind of a joke?" asked Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly as the senator banked in shot after shot. "He's making every single one."
The fact that Sanders, 74, made those shots would not surprise his old basketball buddies, however. He apparently used to play in a regular pickup game in Vermont. A Guardian retrospective on Sanders' basketball skills found that the then-filmstrip maker was "was not the best player but certainly not the worst, with a deadly set-shot, rugged elbows and a brusque, Brooklyn twang that echoed through the tiny gym every time he spoke."
According to an old pickup acquaintance, Sanders used to yell: "Give me da bawwwwwwl!"
People who used to play with Sanders at the gym behind Saint Anthony’s Catholic Church in Burlington, Vermont, in the late '70s said the now-presidential-candidate had two key qualities to his game: a solid mid-range jump shot (about 10-15 feet from the hoop) and sharp elbows.
"You didn’t want to run into Bernie because you would get an elbow," a former pickup game participant said to the Guardian. "Not intentional, but he would come down hard."
He was also apparently a bit bossy on the court and would direct his teammates. And while he wouldn't call many fouls, if he perceived an injustice, he wouldn't let it go. GQ Magazine noted it in a February article: "Bernie Sanders was that guy you hated to play pickup basketball with." As Clinton is finding out now in the nomination race, that competitive streak has stuck with him.