All-time basketball great Michael Jordan purchased a spot in next year’s NASCAR circuit and signed the sport’s only full-time Black driver to his team, racing officials said Monday.
Jordan, partnering with long-time friend and veteran racer Denny Hamlin, bought the NASCAR charter of Germain Racing and will begin 2021 competition on Feb. 14 at the Daytona 500.
“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said in a statement.
“The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me. Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more.”
NASCAR released a statement praising the move.
“We proudly welcome Michael Jordan into the NASCAR family, and look forward to watching Michael, Denny Hamlin and Bubba Wallace compete in 2021,” NASCAR said in a statement. “Michael is an iconic sports figure and celebrated champion whose fiercely competitive nature has placed him among the greatest athletes of all time. His presence at NASCAR’s top level will further strengthen the competition, excitement and momentum growing around our sport. We wish Michael and his team tremendous success.”
Former pro basketball star Brad Daugherty, a co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing, said the combination of Jordan, Hamlin and Wallace will draw instant eyeballs to the sport. Daugherty and Jordan were teammates at the University of North Carolina.
“I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba,” Daugherty, who had been the only Black NASCAR owner before Jordan, said. “They’re going to be like rock stars.”
Germain Racing’s current driver is Ty Dillon, and Wallace now races for Richard Petty Motorsports. Both of their contracts end on Nov. 8 with the season’s final event, the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway.
“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” Wallace said in a statement on Monday. “I’m grateful and humbled that they believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”
The number 23 is now available for any NASCAR competitor, and Jordan said he’d be interested in grabbing those digits that he made famous leading the Chicago Bulls to six world titles between 1991 and 1998. But he’ll defer to Wallace’s wishes.
“It’s all going to be what Bubba wants. I’m not going to impose on him with my persona,” the North Carolina native Jordan told the Charlotte Observer.
“At the end of the day, I want him to have his own identity. If he chooses to drive that number, great! If he chooses another number, that’s great as well.”
The sale price was not disclosed, though one of the sport’s 36 charters — which guarantee a starting-line spot each NASCAR weekend — can go for between $4 million and $6 million.
Monday’s announcement was another high-profile move by NASCAR to widen its appeal beyond the sport’s traditional southern base.
Earlier this summer, NASCAR banned the Confederate battle emblem, ubiquitous at circuit races for decades. The move came in the wake of large-scale protests against systemic racism, prompted by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May.
Drivers rallied around Wallace this past summer when a piece of rope, tied in the shape of a noose, was found in his garage at Talladega Superspeedway.
Wallace is 23rd in current NASCAR Cup Series standings going into Sunday’s race, the South Point 400, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.