When Dreams Were Bigger Than Budget: Barack Obama Recalls When He Couldn’t Afford Discount Chicago Bulls Tickets

Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States, is known for his inspiring journey from humble beginnings to becoming one of the most influential figures in American history.

Barack Obama, Decoder podcast screenshot via Instagram, @barackobama

Even as an adult, he lived modestly, forgoing certain pasttimes. An avid basketball fan, he recently recalled to Sports Illustrated not having enough money to attend a Chicago Bulls game to witness Michael Jordan at work.

From the Start

Born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii, Obama’s early life was marked modest circumstances.

His mother, Ann Dunham, hailed from Wichita, Kansas, with a lineage encompassing English, Welsh, German, Swiss, and Irish ancestry. Recent discoveries even suggest a connection to John Punch, an enslaved African man from the seventeenth century, adding another layer to his heritage. His father, Barack Obama Sr., was a Luo Kenyan from Nyang’oma Kogelo.

In 1961, shortly after Barack’s birth, he and his mother relocated to Seattle, Washington, where they resided for a year. During this time, Barack’s father pursued his education in economics at the University of Hawaii as a foreign student on scholarship. The couple separated in 1964, and Obama Sr. returned to Kenya. He died in 1982 when Barack was just 21 years old.

The young Barack Obama was raised by his mother, who later married Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian graduate student in geography. In 1967, they joined Lolo in Indonesia, where they lived in Jakarta.

Chicago Times

Obama’s obsession with the Bulls can be traced to the 1980s when he moved to the Windy City and started his career as a community organizer in Chicago. But as a young fresh graduate facing loan debts to fund his law education further, Obama couldn’t afford to see the Bulls live. “When Michael first came to town, I didn’t have the money to buy tickets for a Bulls game, even the discount ones back in the day,” he recalled to Sports Illustrated. “I was pretty broke.”

Between community-focused jobs and running up debts for advanced education, it seems Obama was on a tight budget. In 1985 he moved to Chicago to work as a community organizer with the Developing Communities Project. But by 1988, he was off to Harvard until 1991 where he enrolled at the Harvard Law School and received his law degree magna cum laude. In 1992 — the year he married Michelle — he took a job as a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. He taught until 2004.  

In 2004, he generated income through his roles in the Illinois Senate and the University of Chicago Law School, as well as from his investments. The following year, he secured a lucrative multi-book deal with Random House, receiving substantial book advances that significantly increased his earnings, which included a generous $1.9 million advance for his book “The Audacity of Hope,” along with royalties. This deal materialized after his impactful appearance at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Additionally, he earned slightly more than $847,000 from another book advance related to “Dreams From My Father,” in addition to receiving $378,237 from supplemental book royalties, Go Banking Rate reported.

By 2006, Obama reported book royalties for “Dreams From My Father” of a little less than $150,000, plus $425,000 from royalties for “The Audacity of Hope.” In 2008, his net worth also encompassed holdings in U.S. Treasury bills, Go Banking Rates reported.

In 2008, the year he was elected president, Obama’s income consisted of nearly $3.3 million from book royalties provided by Random House. He diversified his investments by acquiring U.S. Treasury notes with a valuation ranging between $500,000 and $1 million. For his daughters’ education he invested in two 529 college savings plans, each initially valued at an amount ranging from $50,000 to $100,000.

Mega Money Began Rolling In

Celebrity Net Worth and Business Insider estimate his net worth at $70 million. Post-presidency, his financial success soared.

In 2018, the Obamas founded Higher Ground Productions and secured a production deal with Netflix. In November 2020, Barack Obama released “A Promised Land,” part of a monumental $65 million book deal. By December of the same year, it had sold a staggering 3.3 million copies. Barack and Michelle Obama signed lucrative book and podcast deals and entered into a partnership with Netflix. Post-presidency, his annual pension exceeded $200,000, and he earned substantial fees for public speaking events. In 2022, Higher Ground Productions signed an exclusive worldwide, multi-project, multi-year first-look deal with Audible.

Obama earned $400,000 a year as president and continued to earn book royalties, as well as interest on his investments.

Newsweek reported that Obama’s annual pension after leaving the White House is more than $200,000. He has also received fees as large as $400,000 for public speaking events. The Obamas signed a book deal together in 2020 with Penguin Random House reportedly worth more than $65 million for two books — one written by each member of the power couple.

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