Brad Daugherty is a long way from hometown Black Mountain, but not in manner or approach. Accomplished as he’s been – former NBA All-Star, television analyst, NASCAR team owner – he still relates to the world as the mountain kid who loved tinkering under the hood of cars: Not naïve or unrefined, but still holding small-town values of humility and kindness.
Daugherty, the former North Carolina All-American, took some time Tuesday to field a wide range of questions from Observer NBA writer Rick Bonnell.
Q. Your former North Carolina teammate, Hornets owner Michael Jordan, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom Tuesday at the White House. Your thoughts on Jordan winning the highest civilian honor the U.S. government awards?
A. He has always been a cultural icon, a connector when it comes to sports. As young people, as old people, he connects them all as sports fans. And sports is the realest of reality shows in our society. Being such an icon speaks to his incredible drive, his incredible will.
I was talking to someone about him playing baseball (in the Chicago White Sox organization). People say he stunk at baseball. You know how much courage that took (to enter a field where he was likely to fail)?
He wanted to play baseball. He wanted to qualify for the Chicago Open (golf tournament). That says he doesn’t play it safe and that’s a lesson we can all learn from him. People get paralyzed (by the fear of failure). He’s never had fear of trying something new.
Q. What are your impressions of Hornets point guard Kemba Walker this season?
A. Kemba is top 5 (in the NBA) as far as fearless guys. I’ve watched him a lot and he’s special as far as willing his team to win. Just to be good in the NBA is hard, and he is genuinely great. He’s not afraid to decide games and a lot of guys aren’t like that. If there’s a shot there, he’ll take it and if there’s not a shot there, he’ll create something for himself or others.
It serves him very well. That’s (New England Patriots quarterback) Tom Brady. That’s greatness.
Q. What’s the most important thing you learned from Dean Smith?
A. The biggest thing is humility. Basketball was important, but he used it as a tool to accomplish other things. He had so much compassion for people. Coach Smith was a very intense competitor, but it was so important to him how we competed – with sportsmanship. Don’t take shortcuts, he’d say. With me or Michael or Sam (Perkins) he’d always remind us we had a huge responsibility to conduct ourselves with humility on that campus. Win or lose he was always the same person the next day.
Q. Your other love is motorsports. What were your impressions of Jimmie Johnson winning a seventh Sprint Cup championship this past weekend?
A. Obviously, that was just remarkable if you look at all Jimmie has accomplished. No one was really talking about him at the start of the Chase. The Joe Gibbs cars were just light years ahead of everyone else, so it says so much about (Johnson’s) preparation. He came into the Chase somewhat out of nowhere. He was not perceived as being in the real conversation (to win the championship).
He’s got to be in that group now, with Richard (Petty) and Dale (Earnhardt), for the greatest driver ever to get in a race car.
Jimmie is one of the most normal guys in sports. There is no entourage. You can walk up to him or he can walk up to you and just have a conversation. He’s the guy in the baseball cap and gym shorts hanging around the garage. He’s just like you and me: The most humble superstar ever.
Q. Any adjustments you’d make to the NBA that might better the sport?
A. I’d like the game to get back somewhat to post play. The big man has changed so much that what we used to do is almost obsolete. And I might allow a little more latitude on the perimeter with defense. The way the (no-hand check rule) is enforced, there’s nothing you can really do with the great penetrators. I’m not sure that’s good for the entertainment value of the sport.
When you can’t put your hands on guards, it creates quite an advantage. A guy like Steph (Curry) is coming at you downhill, and I don’t know what you do about that.
Q. Your former Cavaliers teammate, Mark Price, is now coach of the Charlotte 49ers. What are your impressions of the player who was your point guard for so long?
A. I played against Mark in college (when Price was at Georgia Tech) and then lucky enough to be with him (in Cleveland). No disrespect to Steph or to LeBron (James), but they were no harder to defend than Mark Price. He was fast! I was talking to Isiah Thomas about that. People would say he looked slow. Isiah would say, “No, he was faster than me both up-and-down and laterally.”
I knew if I gave him even a sliver of a good pick, it would work out for me. All I had to do was give him a decent pick and I knew it would be a basket every time.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell