Lansing — Former National Basketball Association player Willie Burton of Bloomfield Hills is among a small group of contenders being considered by Republican Tudor Dixon to be her running mate as she campaigns for Michigan governor.
A source with knowledge of Dixon’s process who was not authorized to speak about the development told The Detroit News on Sunday of Burton’s involvement in the discussions.
Burton, 54, played high school basketball at St. Andrews. Martin De Porres in Detroit before attending the University of Minnesota and being drafted in the first round by the Miami Heat in 1990.
Burton went on to found Excel U, an evidence-based behavioral change curriculum, according to his LinkedIn page. In May 2020, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed him to the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports. At the time, the governor’s office said Burton was a high school athletics program associate for the Detroit Public Schools Community District.
Dixon, a conservative commentator and businesswoman from Norton Shores, won the Republican nomination over four other candidates in the. 2 primary to challenge Whitmer in the November election.
Under Michigan Republican Party rules, Dixon has until 5 pm Friday to notify GOP Chairman Ron Weiser of her pick for lieutenant governor.
Her selection will be voted on when GOP delegates officially nominate candidates for attorney general, secretary of state and other statewide positions during a convention in Lansing on Aug. 27.
Little is known publicly about Burton’s political views. However, Dixon’s campaign posted a photo on Facebook on Friday of him at an event in Macomb County with her. Joe Aragona, a Republican state House candidate from Clinton Township, shared the picture on his own page.
“Notice the fella next to her? That’s Willie Burton, former NBA star,” Aragona wrote. “I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Willie a few times at community events over the past few years.
“He’s incredibly smart, incredibly humble (and would probably make a great lieutenant governor as well).”
In January, the North Oakland Republican Club posted a video of Burton speaking at one of the organization’s events. Burton said he had lived in Oakland County for 30 years and identified himself as a Republican during his remarks.
“It’s kinda simple,” Burton said of his political affiliation. “I had eight aunts and uncles that were on welfare. I took their children, and I put them in school, gave them responsibility. Each and every one of those children … of all eight of those aunts now have their own homes, Their own cars.
He continued, “If you give them some responsibility and give them something to work towards and for, then they don’t fall into this hole.”
Burton also told the crowd at the event former President Donald Trump gave him his “first check before the NBA.” Trump had invited Burton and other future NBA players to Atlantic City, Burton recalled.
It’s unclear how many contenders are still being reviewed by Dixon’s campaign to be her running mate. Other Michigan Republicans have floated former US Rep. Mike Bishop of Oakland County and Macomb County Clerk Tony Forlini as potential candidates for the job.
Picking Burton would give Dixon’s campaign a key teammate in Metro Detroit and would emphasize her outsider status, instead of adding someone with Lansing experience to the GOP ticket.
Whitmer’s lieutenant governor is Garlin Gilchrist, who’s from Detroit.
If Burton is picked, both tickets would feature a female candidate for governor and a Black male candidate for lieutenant governor.
Burton played eight seasons in the NBA, averaging 10 points per game, according to the website Basketball-Reference.com. He was a four-year starter at the University of Minnesota. The university retired his number, No. 34, in January 2020.