Bubba Wallace has attended his fair share of games at Spectrum Center during his time in Charlotte.
Wallace, a longtime Charlotte Hornets fan more famously known for his ability to drive race cars, notices a distinct contrast in the way things feel during a typical game day now. He can appreciate the level of excitement encasing the uptown venue and the optimism oozing thanks to the up-and-coming young Hornets. They are a hot ticket and draw 14,000-plus on a typical night, welcoming a sellout crowd of 19,139 in three of their past five games and six times overall this season.
“If we are going to go back two or three years and get COVID out of there, it’s definitely a different atmosphere,” Wallace told The Observer. “It’s a good vibe. People are enjoying what they are seeing from the young core performances. Obviously, we want everybody to be better and continue to push themselves to be better. We’ll just have to see. Time will tell where we will shake out as a team, but I think we are headed on the ups.”
Wallace, along with other members of his racing team, will get another up-close view of LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges & Co. on Friday when the Hornets return home from their two-game road trip to the Northeast to host Oklahoma City.
In conjunction with Mooresville-based 23XI Racing, the Hornets are hosting their inaugural 23XI Racing Crossover Night. Wallace will be part of a themed experience, which will include in-game activities and appearances by Kurt Busch and 23XI Racing co-owner Denny Hamlin.
Wallace is pumped and can’t wait to be intermingling with both fan bases.
“Yeah it’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said. “A good crossover event for our team, and for the Hornets and for our guys to get to have a fun night out. It’s something that doesn’t happen very often, especially nowadays because they are busting their tails to get these cars ready for our season. So to go out and have a night on the town with some friends and family at the Hornets’ event, go watch some basketball, will be super cool. So I’m looking forward to it.”
Wallace spoke exclusively to The Observer about his Hornets’ fandom, what it’s like being a part of a race team featuring Michael Jordan as an owner and how the two franchise’s intersect with each other.
Roderick Boone: So can you first explain your Hornets’ fandom?
Bubba Wallace: When it’s your — I guess I don’t know how to call it, my hometown — because I’m not really from here. But I moved here when I was 2, so you kind of just inherit the professional teams in the area. So yeah, Hornets fan and (Carolina) Panthers fan as well. And I remember when it was the Hornets, and then Bobcats and then back to the Hornets. So it’s definitely been a whirlwind for us and the team. But yeah super cool to have some direct ties now with M.J.
RB: Yes, what’s it mean for the 23XI team to have a tie into the Hornets specifically?
BW: It’s a lot. It’s a good way to get more NASCAR fans out to Hornets games and more Hornets fans out to NASCAR events. Great crossover using both of our platforms, just using everybody involved — from myself, Denny, Kurt Busch. Just getting out there in front of our fans and exposing our two sports in the best way we can. So it will be really cool just continuing to grow both of our sports.
RB: You were at a game recently and I saw you had a chance to chat with Miles Bridges during pregame warmups. How many games do you typically attend in a season?
BW: Depending on the schedule we’ll try to get out to a handful. I’m not really much for going into the city. That’s why I live in Concord. But when we have time, when mine and Amanda’s schedule allows, we’ll entertain the idea of going to watch a game and have some fun.
RB: You mentioned Denny. How much does it push you and motivate you to succeed to race under a team lead by him and, of course, Michael Jordan?
BW: It’s cool being under their banner. I’ve raced against Denny for a handful of years now, so to be racing for him is super cool and obviously with M.J. it’s icing on the cake. It’s super cool and very humbling. A lot of fun and very competitive, which is what I live for. That’s how I was brought up. People think it’s a lot of stress, but it’s actually right in my wheelhouse to go out and compete for those guys and make the most of it.
RB: I’m guessing the competitor in you wants to be pushed by guys like Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan. What about that aspect of things?
BW: Yeah, we live in stressful environments and that’s what makes us tick. And so it’s almost like the more stress the better — certain types of stress, you know, the better. I don’t know if you get to really pick and choose your stress, but if you could it would just be more from the competition side. But yeah, I think just moving forward with them and utilizing every tool that we have in front of me to be the best racer I can be is only going to help on and off the racetrack.
RB: When I talk to the players about Michael Jordan, they often mention his aura and unmistakable presence. What is it like for you having him as your boss and how do you balance being an employee with a fan around him?
BW: Yeah, it’s cool. It definitely takes a lot for me to get excited. Meeting M.J. for the first time was really cool, but at the same time he’s just another dude, just another guy. But he’s done a lot in his sport, and he’s done a lot in the world. And he has a lot of people that look up to him, including me. So I find myself sometimes pinching myself like, ‘Man, is this real? Am I really hanging out with M.J.? The other times we are giving each other crap.
RB: What do you want Hornets fans to know about 23XI Racing and about you as a driver specifically?
BW: Yeah, there’s a lot of opportunities and if you are looking to become a part of our sport, then there’s a lot of job opportunities that we provide at 23XI. And so exposing that and showing that we can be a helping hand and get you in the right step is big, and showing that there’s a lot more to NASCAR than turning left and going fast There’s a lot more. There’s a lot of strategy and there’s just a lot of fun and chaos that are involved in our sport. So definitely come out and enjoy the sport and come support us.
RB: What have you enjoyed the most about watching the Hornets so far this season?
BW: I think just the young atmosphere, the competitive edge that they have. Those are all guys that are continuing to try to make a name for themselves to ball out, and it’s cool to see that passion and that grind.
RB: LaMelo Ball has become very popular in Charlotte and nationwide. As someone who’s also in the spotlight, can you appreciate what it’s like to watch him from afar?
BW: Yeah he’s definitely doing big things. Coming straight into the league and putting up big numbers is super cool, and just watching how he plays is a lot of fun. He brings a lot of exciting stuff to the game and I think that’s big — being different. I’m all about being different. So watching him and how he handles himself and how he plays is definitely different. So major props to him and what he’s got going on and for him to continue to lead the Hornets in the right direction. It’ll be fun to watch his career grow and the Hornets team grow as we move on.