Last night Mitt Romney sat courtside at a Jazz-Thunder playoff game and, sporting a Jazz jersey over a button-down shirt, taunted OKC's Russell Westbrook for getting four fouls in the first quarter.
Okay, cold take: This is this worst kind of political posturing. Mitt Romney, a robot, doesn't like sports -- or anything, really -- unless there's political gain to be had.
Hot take: Mitt Romney genuinely loves sports. Or as he calls them, "sport."
Look, Romney is an easy target. He's famously stiff, aristocratic, and out-of-touch, and you can't blame anyone but him for that. And though dude's been pilloried and parodied again and again, he clearly hasn't learned. Or maybe he doesn't care: His consistency at this point is kind of endearing. Or, as his family describes him, he's simply "quirky." (In one such quirk Romney strapped the family dog to the roof of the family car for a 12-hour drive.) For instance, he laughs like a first-generation robot designed to imitate humans.
And he was in character at last night's appearance at the basketball sport concours, wearing his Jazz jersey over a crisp, sensible, expensive, all-business shirt. Really, man? Mitt Romney doesn't belong at an NBA playoff game. He just happens to be running for U.S. Senate in Utah, where he recently suffered an embarrassing loss at the GOP convention. He must now endure the indignity of a primary, so he's flying his "normal Utah man who enjoys beer in theory" colors.
And yeah, the whole thing was calculated. But I think the guy genuinely likes basketball, and he probably follows his home team. Look, Mitt loves competition. He's a rabid capitalist, after all. And believe it or not, this actually has translated into what's apparently an abiding, if quirky, love for sport. (Sportsmanship, however, is a separate matter we'll have to address later.)
Because how quickly we forget: Romney played a major role in saving the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He wrote a book about it, titled Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership and The Olympic Games. In that book, of course, he called sports "sport" 33 times.
But Romney did go all-in, and considering he left his job at Bain to do it, the payout sure wasn't much. The 2002 Olympics were in danger of being tanked by rampant corruption in the International Olympic Committee, which caused many officials to step down. So in 1999 Romney left his big-money (some might say predatory) job at Bain Capital and over the next three years managed to restore public confidence and rehabilitate the games, by one accounting measure taking them from a $400 million deficit to a $100 million budget surplus. Even though he secured a lot of that money from the federal government, unlike his predecessors he actually secured it. So in a way, you've got to hand it to the guy.
But could it be he did it out of love for sport? Well, yeah, probably. He has his own Olympics.
Every year the Romney family gathers at their vacation home in New Hampshire to participate a very real sport event called the Romney Olympics. This isn't a joke. The Washington Post reported that the Romney Olympics include events such as "who can hang onto a pole the longest, who can throw a football the farthest and who can hammer the most nails into a board in two minutes." Romney added that there's also log sawing. And it's not optional: All Romneys, and their wives, must participate. Mitt's oldest son Tagg told the Post he once tried to skip out, citing as an excuse his job with the L.A. Dodgers, but his dad wouldn't let him. Tagg said he "had to beg forgiveness from my bosses at the Dodgers."
That's another point for Romney: His son works in the majors.
Romney says he's unathletic, but he's pathologically competitive. He's resolved this dilemma through cunning and treachery. The Romney Olympics include a swim-bike-run triathlon. One year, though, the aging Mitt almost came in last, nearly losing to a daughter-in-law who a few months before had given birth to Mitt's grandchild. But Mitt literally tripped her. As he and adult son Craig recounted at a 2012 campaign rally:
CRAIG: ...And it was down to my wife and my dad over here.
MITT: I tripped her.
Craig went on to try to paint this in a positive light: "It was kind of in the home stretch in the run there. And she had a slight lead on him. And he said that in that moment, he decided he was going to win that race or he was going to die trying. And you see this fight to the finish, and he went for this -- he gave it everything he had. He gave it a good kick and he beat her in the end... But it's that type of hard work, it's that type of determination, I think, that we need in the White House."
After that, Romney expanded the games so he wouldn't lose again.
Politics and sports do overlap, even if it's at the lowest possible human level.
So yeah, Romney likes sports, and he probably likes basketball. After all, he knew four fouls in one half was bad news for Westbrook, who Romney also knew was a star player. This also wasn't the first Jazz game Mitt attended. Here he is at another one, but instead of a jersey he's rocking a sensible pullover.
As for whether Romney is a dyed-in-the-cashmere Jazz fan, though, it seems to depend on the political winds. Here he is pandering to the good people of Massachusetts.
But on closer inspection, Romney sported number 5 at the Jazz game -- that of Rodney Hood, whom the Jazz just sent to the Cavs in a major trade that was by all accounts a stinker for Utah. Is it possible that Romney really keeps up with the Jazz, his jersey a silent insider protest of the controversial trade?
The Jazz won, putting them up 3-1 in the series. Westbrook, however, put up a double-double.