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NASCAR Driver Denny Hamlin Has a Passion for Basketball

Denny Hamlin with pal Michael Jordan

Denny Hamlin with pal Michael Jordan

Denny Hamlin will never jump on a bicycle and ride for 50 miles like Jimmie Johnson, or lace up running shoes and run a marathon like Jamie McMurray. He doesn’t have the patience or the interest required for either one. But give Hamlin a basketball and a hoop, and he will play for hours. 


After Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, moved to Charlotte to become a full-time driver in the mid-2000s, he played in a local league in a Charlotte neighborhood called Birkdale, home to many in the NASCAR community. 


“I had an outdoor court, and that was fun for like two months of the year when the weather was good — it was either too hot or too cold, usually,” Hamlin told NASCAR.com. “And then I decided I wanted to build my own house. It was high on my priority list to have a full indoor court, and eventually I wanted to move the Birkdale basketball league to here, but instead we just started our own league.”

Denny Hamlin basketball court


Hoop Group, as Hamlin dubbed the league that meets in his indoor court, will start its sixth season this year. And league is the right word. It’s not just pickup. There are uniforms, referees and a trophy for the championship winner. Last year, Hoop Group ran from March 19 until June 4, with games every Monday.

The list of Hoop Groupers includes drivers (Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bubba Wallace, Austin Dillon), media members (NBC play-by-play man Rick Allen, former driver/team owner Michael Waltrip, now a commentator on Fox) and others. 


At the center of it all is Hamlin, who keeps playing despite a history of injuries suffered in the sport. He tore the ACL in his left knee in 2010 and in his right knee in 2015, and he fell hard enough on his hip in 2008 that he walked with a noticeable limp days later. 


“I’d like to say I was going up for a dunk, but I think everybody knows that ain’t true,” Hamlin said a few days later. 


Those injuries haven’t diminished his passion for the sport. He has owned courtside season tickets to the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets for more than a decade. His girlfriend, Jordan Fish, with whom he has two children, is a former cheerleader for the team. 

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