Walker Hayes isn't worried about his All-Star Weekend show — he's practicing his jump shot

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What would you rather do: Sing your feelings to a few thousand strangers or show off your jump shot to tens of thousands?

Country singer Walker Hayes will pull double duty as both performer and player during NBA All-Star Weekend, and he told IndyStar his nerves were centered fully around basketball. He's even been practicing with friends and neighbors.

Hayes will perform ahead of Keith Urban at Crossover, the NBA's fan-centric Indiana Convention Center event, on Saturday. He will also team with Dallas Cowboys star Micah Parsons, IndyCar driver Conor Daly and other big names against a similar team headed by Jennifer Hudson as part of Friday's Celebrity Game.

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He discussed his basketball background, practicing with his neighbors and what fans should expect from his stage performance below. Questions and answers have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

IndyStar: What are you excited about this weekend?

Hayes: I don't know if many people know this about me. I'm 44, but back in the day, when I met my wife, Lani, we met in high school. And my dream was to play some hoops, believe it or not. I've never dreamed small. It's one of those dreams where you kind of look back and you're like, wow, I can't believe actually dreamed that.

I keep in contact with a lot of my friends in high school that I played basketball with, and they're pumped for me. I live in a town called Estill Springs in Franklin County (Tennessee), between Chattanooga and Nashville. And over the past few weeks, some of my friends and I have grouped together and we've been playing pickup games and stuff to get me ready. So this is a big deal.

Country singer Walker Hayes will participate in the celebrity basketball game and perform a concert at NBA All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis on Feb. 16-17, 2024.
Country singer Walker Hayes will participate in the celebrity basketball game and perform a concert at NBA All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis on Feb. 16-17, 2024.

That was my second question: Whether we should have an eye on you as a possible ringer.

Ringer is a strong word. But I mean, look — I can ball for a 44-year-old dad. I'm competitive and I love basketball.

That's another interesting question to me is: Do we go 100%, or is it just playful? You know what I mean? I'm super interested to see how the rest of my team plays. I've seen the other roster, and I'm super curious who can hoop and who's athletic. I'll play to have a good time.

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So when you were in school, was basketball stardom your first choice and then country singer the second?

No. About the time I grew into puberty and grew pretty tall — that was about eighth or ninth grade — and I was good at basketball. That was my that was my first sport and my favorite sport.

I didn't start really getting into music until college and after college.

I wanted to ask about the actual performing. You're playing Crossover. You're on the same bill as Keith Urban. What's that going to be like for you?

Shoot. If I'm ever feeling insecure, I can always say man, I got to open for Keith Urban. He's amazing. I always love watching his show anytime we're at the same fair or on the same bill. He's a hero of mine. And so that's going to be awesome.

(The NBA All-Star game) is just one of those iconic events where me, my wife and my kids just kind of look at each other like 'I can't believe you get to do this, dad.' Not only just performing but playing in the celebrity game and then also watching the NBA game. None of my kids have ever seen a professional basketball game. For their first one to be the the All-Star Game — I feel like they're killing their big buck first. It's all downhill from here.

Are you more nervous to perform at Crossover or play in the game?

I'm much, much more nervous about playing. I really hope I get out there and feel comfortable, because it's been a long time since I've done anything like that. I'm so excited. I really hope I hit it off with the team, and we all can enjoy ourselves.

I do shows every weekend. That's no big deal. But I don't get to play in many basketball games where there's cameras and crowds.

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When it comes to your performance at Crossover, you know what should folks expect?

What we do is a wide, wide variety. We come out strong with some really large tracks. My band goes hard, and my dancers go hard. My daughter is one of four professional dancers that pretty much dance the whole show, and then we bring it all the way down to just me and a guitar. Two of my little girls join me, and we sing a really emotional song called "Father Time."

I'll share kind of my story, my testimony of recovery at every show. That's that's a big part of what I do live, and then we go out with the bangers, you know, we go out with "AA" and (famed TikTok anthem) "Fancy Like." When we open, it's just a consolidated version of what you would probably get when we're on tour.

Maybe you could tell me a little bit about what that story is?

Yeah. I've been sober eight years. I'm a three-year-old born again Christian. My wife and I lost a child. We lost our seventh child. She would be five this year.

A lot of what has kind of shaped my story has been some tragic experiences but also a lot of redemption. All of that makes me really grateful to participate in this event.

But every time we perform, I like to share those things because I know there's somebody in the crowd — maybe they've identified that they have a problem with alcohol and all they need is somebody to stand up and say, yeah, I do too. Or maybe there's somebody out there who has lost a kid, and they're looking for why, and all they need to know is that somebody else did too. And their family is okay. That time has actually healed, and the Lord has redeemed.

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Rory Appleton is the pop culture reporter at IndyStar. Contact him at rappleton@indystar.com or follow him on X, formerly Twitter, at @RoryEHAppleton.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: NBA All-Star Celebrity Game's Walker Hayes on performing and playing