Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan go way back. Forty years, to be exact.
They started out as teammates on the basketball court, both playing for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels in the mid-80s. Later, when they made the move to the NBA, Brad and Michael became rivals. In fact, they played each other five times in the playoffs, when Daugherty was with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Jordan was with the Chicago Bulls. Each time their teams played, Jordan would dominate. Today, nearly 30 years later, the two North Carolina natives face off in a completely different sport: NASCAR, with Daugherty being the co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing and Jordan running the show at 23XI Racing alongside Denny Hamlin. Now, while Jordan typically bested Daugherty on the basketball court, when it comes to NASCAR, "Big Dukie" has "His Airness" beat. At least when it comes to 2023 accomplishments in the Cup Series.
When Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the Daytona 500 earlier this year behind the wheel of the No. 47 JTG Chevy, Daugherty became the first Black owner to win the "Great American Race." Given the intensely competitive nature of Jordan and his past with Daugherty on the basketball court, many fans and pundits got it in their heads that Brad's big win would spark some sort of major rivalry filled with trash-talking and perceived bad blood. During an interview with AndScape, Daugherty set the record straight regarding any sort of behind-the-scenes beef between him and Jordan.
"I just texted with him. He just said, 'Congrats,'" said Daugherty, when asked if he had talked with Jordan since Daytona.
"I told him, I said, 'It's a damn shame that every article that has your name in it is basically clickbait.' We were laughing about that. 'Oh, Michael and Brad trash-talk.' That's kind of an old NBA narrative. I'm proud of Michael. And he, he's saying congrats on what you've done. I pull for him. I want that [No.] 47 to finish first, but I want his cars to finish second every week. And I want people to get that. They think all we do as basketball players is talk trash and we don't have the brain to talk. He said, 'Congrats, my brother. Congrats, man. Proud.' I said, 'Thank you, appreciate it, man.'
It's clear that Brad Daugherty doesn't just revere Michael Jordan as a friend, but as somewhat of a barrier-breaker in the sport of NASCAR. When asked about Jordan's impact and influence as a racing owner, Daugherty couldn't have sung his praises more.
"So, when Michael does something, everything is cool because he's a cultural icon," Daugherty said. "And so now these young cats are starting to ask me more and more about it. 'Help me understand the race car business.' You get to talk to these guys about NASCAR and it's really hard to explain it because from an African American perspective, there are not a lot of us. I remember days going to racetracks and there'd be 50,000 people there. And, man, I would damn near be the only face of color in the whole crowd. I don't know how this happens..."
"I applaud NASCAR for the last decade of what they've tried to do in becoming more inclusive and all-encompassing. But there's still a part of me that looks at this and says, 'It's taking too long. This is not OK.' And I think more and more people realize that. But it's the 21st century, man, and we still only have one African American driver at the top level. How is that? That bothers me. That's why I tell Michael, 'Man, I'm so appreciative of you.' I've known Michael since I was 17 years old and he's a friend. I'm so appreciative because my little race team, I would never have been able to put Bubba in a car and I wanted to so bad."
"I tried to figure out a deal to get Bubba in my race car and he was willing. But I would've never been able to put him in a race car that could win on a weekly basis, and that's what Michael has done. Bubba Wallace can win a championship in Michael's race car."
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