For most people, being a billionaire, Hall of Famer, greatest-of-all-time player, NBA franchise owner, brand owner and sometime actor would be enough to fill up a day. Not for Michael Jordan.
Last Monday, news broke that MJ teamed up with NASCAR stars Denny Hamlin and Bubba Wallace to form a new NASCAR team. It’s not a headline you might expect. But in 2020, it actually fits perfectly.
“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity, and there have been few Black owners…the timing seemed perfect,” Jordan said in a press release announcing the partnership. With the news, he will become the first Black principal owner of a NASCAR squad since Wendell Scott in the early ‘70s.
Jordan — worth $2.1 billion according to Forbes — has enough money to last a lifetime. Yet, his willingness to forge ahead for new audiences is striking. Perhaps because to him, everything is an opportunity (or competition). And this latest challenge will help him reach new audiences while changing the culture and disrupting established norms.
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In fact, Saint Louis University Professor of Marketing Dr. Brett Boyle thinks this moment has the potential to change NASCAR much in the way Tiger Woods changed golf when he came on to the scene. In an interview with CNBC, he reflected on Woods’ career, saying, “You saw younger people get interested in golf…[and] when somebody sees somebody like them in a sport, then they start thinking about themselves playing that sport…this may increase minority interest in NASCAR.”
Strong leaders know how to push boundaries and leverage their leadership capabilities to induce change. Before his death, Jordan’s NBA heir apparent Kobe Bryant was authoring children’s books and teaching valuable lessons of character within his writings. Danny Trejo did this in Hollywood by taking his tough-guy mentality and previous prison experience to forge a path that was not previously seen for returned citizens. Jay-Z did this in the corporate world by parlaying his street smarts and bending the business world to his acumen. Jordan knows all of this, and his mission is to forge ahead as true leaders do.
“NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more,” Jordan noted in his statement. “In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”
It’d be tough to bet against Jordan and company on this one. Over the last 20 years, since his professional basketball retirement, he’s:
Become majority owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.
Been ranked by Forbes as the 20th-most powerful celebrity worldwide.
Been Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Named Chief Wish Ambassador by Make-a-Wish-Foundation.
Awarded a 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Released a book, became the majority owner of a golf course and restaurant, and became co-owner of an automotive group.
That’s among a slew of other successful ventures. Still, Jordan’s decision to enter NASCAR is another striking example on his part of a leader pioneering to find a new audience and change the culture of an established sport — something many will likely follow suit in doing.
One of Jordan’s most impressive abilities is attracting big-name sponsors (e.g. his newly established relationship with online sportsbook Draft Kings). Surely, Jordan has sponsorships in mind for his NASCAR team, and as an anonymous source told CNBC, “If you’re a corporation, wouldn’t you want to support Michael Jordan and Bubba Wallace as they try to promote positive change?”
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Jordan’s M.O. is to break new ground and promote unique partnerships, and there’s a lot that can be learned from that — especially today. Mining the same well won’t produce results forever, so it’s imperative for entrepreneurs and businesses alike to follow Jordan’s lead and branch out for the betterment of themselves, their business and everyone around them, including society as a whole.
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