Before LeBron lived up to the hype, Brad Daugherty was arguably the greatest player in Cleveland Cavaliers history. After the events of last summer, Daugherty at least reclaimed his spot as the best player whom Cavs fans actually like, as LeBron has become as welcome in Cleveland as Bill was welcome at Beatrix Kiddo’s wedding.
The No. 1 pick of the 1986 NBA Draft, Daugherty played eight seasons with the Cavs before back injuries forced him into retirement at 28 years old. In that time he averaged 19.0 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, making five All-Star Games and finishing his career as the franchise’s all-time leader in total points and rebounds.
Since then, Daugherty has thrived in his second career in auto racing. He has been an owner of NASCAR truck and Sprint Cup racing teams since 1997, currently serving as part-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing, where his #47 Little Debbie/Clorox-sponsored car was driven by Marcos Ambrose this season and will put veteran Bobby Labonte behind the wheel in 2011. Daugherty is also a NASCAR analyst for ESPN and Showtime, and races himself a few times each summer.
Yesterday I got up with the 43-year-old Daugherty to talk about his experiences on the court and the track, his thoughts on LeBron leaving Cleveland, his days at North Carolina, and how his Cavs could have beaten Jordan‘s Bulls.
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Dime: What’s your history with racing? What drew you to the sport?
Brad Daugherty: Growing up in Black Mountain, North Carolina, I was right in the heart of it. My dad was a big race fan, my uncle was a huge race fan, so as a little kid I was always enamored with cars and drag racing and going to the track. The kids I grew up around had similar interests. We were always tinkering with cars, building hot rods and those type of things. Being from North Carolina, I was able to experience the best of both worlds. The two biggest sports are college basketball and racing, and I got to do both. As much as I love basketball, though, racing is my first passion.
I know it’s odd, a 7-foot African-American man who played in the NBA loving a sport where I’m a huge minority, but I never let that deter me. I’m always going to be part of racing in some way, shape or form. My dad told me, treat yourself as an equal and don’t let anything be an obstacle. Don’t let other people shape your ideas and thoughts, and do what you think is right.
Dime: Do you feel you have to be a symbol, like you almost have to represent all Black people as our face in racing?
BD: I do, no doubt about it. I’m in a sport where I’m a minority, and there are always gonna be people that just don’t like me being there. That’s just the way it is. For those that do like me there, I’m going to represent myself very well and represent people of color very well. I do the best job I can do, and I take it very seriously. I realize some people don’t like what I do because of the color of my skin, but whatever. I don’t care, I’m gonna keep doing it.
Dime: Do you ever get behind the wheel yourself?
BD: Oh yeah, I’ve been racing for several years. I ran in about eight races this summer. It’s probably a sight seeing me get in and out of the car at 7-feet tall, but I love racing. Sometimes I wish I would’ve been 5-9 and been able to run with the big boys, but everything worked out for me. I run two different cars: A late-model stock car and a little open-wheel car called a Thunder Roadster. The last race I had, I qualified 7th out of 46 cars. I was running real well; with three laps to go I was fifth before my motor blew. But I’d say six to eight times during the summer I’ll get out there. I’d love to do it more but I have so much going on.
Dime: You first started broadcasting basketball, which is what people would expect. When you got the idea to go to NASCAR, what was the response?
BD: Some people still can’t get it in their wheelhouse that I’m talking about racing. But it comes naturally. I know the spot, I love talking about the sport, and that’s how I spend a majority of my time anyway. When I was doing college basketball and Dr. Jerry Punch and I worked together, we would be doing a basketball game, and during the timeouts we’d spend the whole time talking about racing. When ESPN got the (NASCAR) package back, they called Doc up, then they called me and asked if I wanted to give this a shot. Five years later, I’m still going strong.
Dime: You’re as closely associated with the Cleveland Cavaliers as any player. What’s your view of the LeBron James situation?
BD: You know, you have to look at both sides of the alley. The only thing I had an issue with was “The Decision” show. I didn’t appreciate that, and I think as LeBron gets older he’ll look back and realize maybe he could have done that differently.
Other than that my view of the whole situation is, he worked hard, he became a free agent, he left: Get over it. Why does he owe Cleveland anything? That’s one thing about pro sports that pisses me off is this whole idea of loyalty, how a player is supposed to be loyal. But you take another guy on the team — say he’s from Cleveland but he’s the 12th guy on the team — is there a big uproar when they cut him? Where’s the loyalty there? If a guy is averaging one point a game, is there an uproar?
Listen, this is a business. LeBron James made a business decision. Everybody that’s mad about “No loyalty,” that’s bull. If Dan Gilbert had for whatever reason decided to trade him — which likely would have happened toward the end of his career — it would have been, “Well, I hate to lose him.”
You can’t have it both ways. What LeBron did was perfectly fine. If he’d broken his leg or messed up his knees … If he’d become a free agent with two blown-out ACL’s, do you think they would have offered him a contract just because he’s the hometown hero? Hell no!
I hate that LeBron left Cleveland because I think they were actually really close to winning a championship. I hate it for that. But sitting here saying he’s done anything wrong? He did everything by the rules, so he deserves his opportunity to play in Miami or wherever he chooses to play. Get over it.