Akouris: Former NBA star Daugherty striving in world of racing
By Tina Akouris firstname.lastname@example.org July 21, 2013 9:10PM
ESPN analyst Brad Daugherty during the NASCAR Countdown show | Photo Submitted
Updated: August 23, 2013 6:37AM
Brad Daugherty is probably one of the few people who can get away with telling Michael Jordan, of all people, that his NBA team stinks.
“I told him, ‘You guys are terrible,’ ” Daugherty said of Jordan’s team, the Charlotte Bobcats. “But I see what he’s trying to do and it takes time. He’s really focused and driven and very stubborn, and he believes in things.”
Daugherty and Jordan go way back. The pair played at North Carolina and met regularly during the NBA season when Daugherty was with the Cleveland Cavaliers. In fact, one of the most notable moments in NBA history involved Jordan and Daugherty’s Cavaliers.
During Game 5 of the 1989 playoffs Jordan hit “The Shot” at the buzzer over the Cavs’ Craig Ehlo to win the series. Daugherty’s basketball career ended five years later and Jordan went on to, well, continuing being Michael Jordan.
“Watching Michael, I knew what he was capable of and that was the biggest thing,” Daugherty said. “He scored 63 on us one night in Cleveland and I thought he had only 25, because it was so easy how he was (scoring).
“And he had so many big, clutch shots that that’s what becomes remarkable.”
But these days, Daugherty seems far removed from basketball and is known for something else.
Daugherty was at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet over the weekend to provide in-studio NASCAR analysis for ESPN on the STP 300 Nationwide race.
A guy like Daugherty, who towers over everyone he meets, gets asked one question more than most: What’s a 7-foot former No. 1 NBA draft pick doing at the racetrack and what could he possibly know about motorsports?
Answer: He knows a lot and Daugherty has more of an auto racing background than you think.
Daugherty’s auto racing story starts in Black Mountain, N.C.
“Our claim to fame was Billy Graham, Roberta Flack and myself,” Daugherty said.
Daugherty’s father raced cars at a short-track about eight miles from their house, and Daugherty started working on cars at a young age. The biggest sport in that region of North Carolina was auto racing.
“We’d build small cars and take them to the track,” Daugherty said. “Racing was the other sport we had in our community and in our lives. I got better at basketball, but I always loved racing.”
So it is obvious that Daugherty’s first love wasn’t basketball. He said he didn’t “fall in love” with basketball until he was a sophomore at North Carolina, playing alongside Jordan and under head coach Dean Smith.
Daugherty became a race team owner in 1988 when he was still playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers and put together a Busch series team (in the days before it was the Nationwide series). In the team’s fourth race, Daugherty’s team won a race at Orange County Speedway.
Then, Daugherty moved into the Camping World Truck Series and hired drivers Kenny Irwin Jr. and Kevin Harvick.
Now, that team has morphed into JTG Daugherty Racing and they have a car in the Sprint Cup Series in Bobby Labonte’s No. 47 Toyota Camry. And he’s on NASCAR’s rules and competitions committee in addition to doing his television work.
“I knew I needed to do (television analysis) for a lot of reasons,” Daugherty said. “If I didn’t accept the opportunity, being an African-American male, then there might not be an opportunity for someone else like me to do it.”