O'Donnell: Slumping NASCAR couldn't buy Michael Jordan's energized endorsement on NBC
MICHAEL JORDAN LONG AGO confirmed why he frequently had his tongue hanging out when he played basketball:
"My dad used to do that when he was working on cars out in our driveway," His Airness said.
"I just started copying him."
As a native of rural Wallace, N.C., Jordan had his NASCAR showing big time Sunday when he popped up on NBC's telecast of the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 from Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"I'm a big racing fan," he told Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"Started out when I was a kid.
"Grew up watching your dad, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, who was the original No. 11 that I remember.
"Now I'm good friends with Denny Hamlin.
"I set my clock every Sunday to watch NASCAR."
Hamlin is the 39-year-old one-time whiz kid who now drives No. 11 -- a Toyota Camry -- for Joe Gibbs Racing.
He finished 10th at Homestead, behind champion Kyle Busch, who also drives for Gibbs.
Hamlin has held season tickets to Charlotte Hornets games since 2010, the year Jordan acquired controlling interest in the team.
"Michael came up to me at a game to exchange phone numbers, which totally blew me away," Hamlin told Dan Patrick.
"His knowledge of NASCAR and its history is amazing.
"Now we play golf all the time and the No. 1 thing about his game is how fast he insists on playing.
"I mean full rounds in three hours and five or 10 minutes. It's understood, you drive up to your ball and yell and hit even if the people ahead are only 50 yards or so away.
"There's never more than a couple thousand dollars changing hands."
If only more of America shared Jordan's enthusiasm for the glorified moonshiners.
Up against the NFL, the Homestead wheel of fortune drew only 3.7 million viewers, a 20-year low.
Still, Earnhardt Jr. couldn't resist asking No. 23 the question that makes NASCAR hearts race:
What about ownership?
"No, I've got a lot on my plate," the most competitively theatrical player ever replied.
"I like being a fan.
"I still understand the sport, but in terms of ownership -- naw."
STREET-BEATIN': Last week's scoop du jour about the impending retirement of Jimmy de Castro as boss of Entercom's Chicago cluster brought forth many tales of the crafty imagineer's moxie. A memorable one happened in 1996 when Steve Dahl left WMVP AM-1000 in a contract dispute and "The Deacon" tried to lure a.m. kingpin Bob Collins away from his champ's nest at WGN AM-720. (Collins said "no" and de Castro dipped 20,000 leagues below for the self-amusing Steve Cochran.) ... All pregame shows will be on deck before the Ohio State-Penn State showdown Saturday (Fox, 11 a.m., Gus Johnson, Joel Klatt). Betting the Buckeyes at -18½ violates just about every canon in The Bad Book. (Meaning if you live west of Toledo, don't touch.) ... Charlie Moore, Paul Reed and the DePaul men have a solid chance of moving to 6-0 at Boston College on Saturday (11 a.m., ACC Network Extra, AM-670). Dave Leitao's scrappers can score but it's their notably sharp defense that makes it seem like a very different sort of new-mill Blue Demons. ... Bob Costas did host Dan Rather a platinum square as a great guest on AXS TV's weekly "The Big Interview." Costas could have made it even better if he had flipped roles and asked Rather: How exactly were CIA media assets in Dallas compensated back in November 1963? ... Colin Kaepernick certainly showed the NFL he's all set to be a team player in a cynical, multibillion-dollar arm of show business last weekend in Atlanta. (Not; as the late Saul Alinsky might have advised, the most effective social protest on any scale requires a precise goal followed by organization, imaging and achievable strategies. And Alinksy never had the benefit of hush money from a pro football league and platform pay from the manufacturer of grossly overpriced gym shoes.) ... Craig Karmazin and his Good Karma Brands have reportedly been kicking the circuitry at WGN AM-720. The purchase would make sense for many reasons, including staff synergies with ESPN AM-1000. (GBK bought WTMJ-AM -- Milwaukee's WGN -- from Scripps Co. last year.) ... Speaking of WGN-AM, outraged Ed O'Bradovich and droppin' 'em Dan Hampton need to freshen their quiver of mad libs toward the Bears on postgame shows. Their furor is shading toward illegal use of redundancies. ... Also from the Bears sub terra, the Monday night coaches show on WBBM AM-780 is sounding as upbeat as Boeing's plans for the reintroduction of the 737 MAX. Gentle Jeff Joniak asks questions like the mortician at the end of Sinatra's "Ocean's 11" trying to find out what to do with the body. ... Programming and promotions at WSCR AM-670 must be on an early Thanksgiving break: The station did an echoey remote from a pizza place in Palatine Tuesday night that could've convinced listeners lonely moths were dying on the light bulbs. ... A terrific read by Kevin Arnovitz at espn.com is "The wild story behind the NBA's most unlikely heist." (For fans of creative financial nefariousness against playtime institutions, it's an "oucher.") ... Parrot-friendly Booger McFarland has officially introduced "rush lane integrity" into the lexicon of "Monday Night Football." (Rush lanes without integrity are so distasteful.) ... Greg Hill reported that a T-shirt seen outside Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field before New England's 17-10 win over the Eagles read: "Breathe if you hate Tom Brady." ... And line coach Ivan Miller deadpanned: "If they find out Myles Garrett spent the summer helping the Astros steal signs, he's got real problems."
• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.