NBA legend Michael Jordan played in more than 1,000 NBA games, but he’s rarely been as nervous as he was Sunday before the Daytona 500.
It was the first race for Michael Jordan, NASCAR team owner. Jordan’s 23XI Racing made its debut Sunday in the Daytona 500, NASCAR's biggest race.
“I’m nervous. I know I am going to be nervous, and I have two winners here,” Michael Jordan said in a pre-race interview with Fox’s Michael Strahan. “It’s a different type of nervous. When I’m on the court, I can go rebound, I can go shoot, I can play defense. Here, all I can do is cheer.”
Michael Jordan formed his new team last year with active NASCAR star Denny Hamlin, who has won 44 NASCAR Cup Series races with Joe Gibbs Racing. The team, which has technical support from Gibbs, hired African-American driver Bubba Wallace as the team’s first driver.
Michael Jordan, Hamlin and Wallace sat down with Strahan for a special interview that aired on Fox’s pre-race show prior to the Daytona 500.
“I’m excited, I’m nervous … but I think when we get ready to play a big game, we can be nervous but we are in control,” Jordan told Strahan, who played in the NFL.
How did Michael Jordan become a team owner?
Michael Jordan, who has six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and is widely regarded as the best player in NBA history, revealed that he has been a NASCAR fan his whole career.
“My father used to pack the whole family and we’d go to Darlington, we’d go to Rockingham, we’d go to Charlotte, we came down to Daytona and Talladega, and we would go and spend the whole day,” Jordan said on Fox. “From that point on, I’ve been hooked on NASCAR.”
Michael Jordan said he decided to become a NASCAR team owner because there were no black team owners in the sport.
“I have thought about it so many different times because I had never seen a black car owner or someone of color who really owned their team or could dictate what happens with their team,” Jordan said. “We hadn’t really been dominant in this sport, but the opportunity had never been presented.”
According to Fox, Wallace had not actually met Michael Jordan until the Fox interview with Strahan. He said he was thrilled, however, to hear from Jordan after agreeing to drive for the team.
"I got 60 to 75 text messages after we announced that night,” Wallace said. “And I got about 10 unknown numbers, and then I get one and I am reading the message and at the bottom it said MJ. I said … ah, awesome. Michael Jordan just texted me, this is cool.”
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Though Wallace has never won a NASCAR Cup Series race, Hamlin and Jordan both agreed he was the right choice for the new 23XI team.
“He was the guy we were going to go after right away,” Hamlin said. “He (Jordan) believed in Bubba’s talent. He was the guy we wanted to build this program around.”
“I think he presents a great opportunity, not just as an African-American but in terms of his talent, someone who aspires to be good. All we have to do is support him,” Jordan said.
While Hamlin just wants the new team to improve throughout the season, Jordan expects to win.
“I feel like he knows how to win,” Jordan said of Wallace. “He’s got the talent. We would not have invested in him and picked him if he didn’t have the talent to win. By the end of the year, I think he is going to have the opportunity and probably will win at least a couple of races. If it’s more, I will be elated.”
Michael Jordan, who also owns the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, plans to be at the track as much as possible.
“If I’m not there physically, you can believe I’m there mentally,” he said.