When it was announced last fall that Michael Jordan had become the co-owner of a NASCAR Cup Series team with his good friend, Denny Hamlin, it came as quite a shock to some. It’s not that Jordan doesn’t know the sport as he’s been attending races since he was a child or know what it’s like to run a motorsports team as he owned a motorcycle team for about a decade.
But perhaps the shock came from the fact that everything with 23XI Racing came together so quickly. And there’s also the fact that not even a year before his big announcement, MJ told Dale Earnhardt Jr. that he had no interest in owning a NASCAR team, a team that actually ended up starting as a joke.
Michael Jordan went to NASCAR races with his father and owned a motorcycle team from 2004 to 2013
Michael Jordan’s love affair with NASCAR actually began when he was just a child as his father, the late James Jordan, was a racing fan and would take young MJ to races at Charlotte, Rockingham, Darlington, and Talladega. The elder Jordan would even work on engines with longtime NASCAR team owner Hoss Ellington, who, like the Jordans, lived in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Soon after his NBA career ended in 2003, MJ got into the racing game himself with Michael Jordan Motorsports, a motorcycle team that competed on the AMA circuit from 2004 to 2013, winning class titles in Superstock, SuperSport East, and winning a race in the top-tier Superbike class.
Michael Jordan once told Dale Earnhardt Jr. he had no interest in owning a NASCAR team
In November 2019, just ahead of the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. interviewed Michael Jordan for NBC Sports and asked the Charlotte Hornets owner if he’d ever think about taking on the same role in NASCAR. This was Jordan’s response:
“No, I’ve got a lot on my plate right now. I love being a fan. I still understand the sport but in terms of ownership, nah, I think I’m just going to sit back and watch it and support from afar.”Michael Jordan
As we all know, Jordan didn’t stick to that as he announced his partnership with Denny Hamlin last September, a partnership that actually began as a joke.
23XI Racing actually started as a joke
Last September, Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin stunned the NASCAR world when they announced they were partnering up to own a team in the Cup Series, which would eventually be named 23XI Racing, a combination of Jordan’s famous No. 23 and Hamlin’s No. 11.
Bubba Wallace, whose contract with Richard Petty Motorsports was expiring at the end of the 2020 season, signed on to be the team’s first driver and runs the No. 23 Toyota Camry each and every week in the Cup Series.
While Jordan is completely serious about helping make 23XI Racing a top-tier team in NASCAR, the whole thing actually started out as a joke as he and Hamlin, who have been good friends for years, were the subjects of rumors that stated the two were looking into partnering up to field a Cup Series team, which led Hamlin to send this joking text to MJ.
“Looks like we’re owners together, ha, ha. Congratulations. Fake news, but if you want to make it real news, let me know.”Denny Hamlin to Michael Jordan
Well, Michael Jordan apparently didn’t see it as a joke and started to actually look into becoming a team owner. And once the process started, it took a mere 10 days for everything to come together.