Vince Carter welcomes Barack Obama

WINDERMERE, Fla. -- 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 Los Angeles 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 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 Asian-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.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.