What's In A Name?


[This piece was originally written for an online publication]

There aren't many teams to get a standing ovation after suffering a 40 point loss in their inaugural game and probably fewer who have a post season parade after finishing 20-62, but the 1988-89 Charlotte Hornets received both.

When the NBA awarded Charlotte with its first major league sports team, there was no way for anyone to know what the impact it would have both on and off the court. The Hornets led the league in attendance eight times during their first tenure in the Queen City and hosted 364 consecutive sold out games in the Charlotte Coliseum.  To add to this already significant feat, the Charlotte Coliseum was the largest arena in the league, with more than 24,000 seats.

North Carolina is known as a college basketball state, not professional, and many doubted the longevity of Charlotte's love for their NBA team. But the Hornets found a home in Charlotte and the love for the Hornets ran deep. Losses mattered little and wins were an added benefit of having a team to call their own.

The enthusiasm was unwavering for close to a decade, but as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. After several tumultuous seasons, then owner, George Shinn, received the go-ahead from the NBA to relocate the Hornets to New Orleans in 2002, leaving Charlotte with only a promise of receiving a new team in time for the 2004-05 season.

That team? The Bobcats; an uninspired name for a team that would never quite grasp the hearts the way its predecessor did in a city that had become embittered towards the NBA. They would finish their first season with only 18 wins and averaged 14,000 in attendance. The Queen City, once famous for its passion and volume for the home team, was now, at best, a lackadaisical crowd.

The Bobcats played only their first season at the Coliseum, in front thousands of empty seats, before moving into the Time Warner Cable Arena in 2005. The next nine years did little to give Charlotte a reason to call the Bobcats their own. Between six head coaching changes, setting a new record for the worst season by an NBA team in history (7-59) in 2012, and getting swept in both playoff appearances, there was little room for interest, much less passion, to grow.

Breakups are messy, but reconciliations can be beautiful

In 2012, New Orleans reported they would be changing their name to the Pelicans at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season, opening the door for Bobcats owner, Michael Jordan, to submit an application to change the name of his franchise back to the Charlotte Hornets. And on July 18, 2013, the NBA said the words Charlotte had been longing to hear for almost a decade: the Hornets are coming home (paraphrased).

It's been 12 years since the Charlotte Hornets played a game and 10 years of something resembling disdain for the home NBA team here in Charlotte. The question, though, is when the Hornets take the floor next fall, will the name change be enough? Will the familiar sight of teal and purple being back in Charlotte erase the last 10 years of halfhearted fanship?

"I'm in favor of changing the name to Hornets," Muggsy Bogues, an original Charlotte Hornet said. "That name belongs to the city of Charlotte. It will help. But I'm also quite sure the Bobcats know that a name change alone isn't going to do it. It's never going to be exactly the same, but you have to make people feel that relationship again. You have to reach out in the community. But, most of all, you have to win."

The Bobcats never had the support of a community. They entered into a tainted relationship and would never overcome the mountain that had been placed in front of them. And with the city more than happy to close the door on a team that had more mediocre seasons than not, the fans are ready to be apart of what made the Charlotte Hornets more than just a basketball team.

For most, the end of an era elicits feelings of nostalgia, but when the Bobcats played their last game on April 28, the only feelings in Charlotte were of relief. Gone was the team with the worst season in NBA history and in its place, a team whose history in this city brings a fresh start.

Michael Jordan, who scored 51 points against the Charlotte Hornets in 2001, has often said he wants the Time Warner Cable Arena to feel like the Charlotte Coliseum did during the Hornets prime.

"The energy in that building [the Charlotte Coliseum] is what we're trying to get back in this building," Team President Fred Whitfield said. "When you would leave, the fans felt like they had won or lost. They felt they had played the game."

Palpable energy isn't given as freely as it once was, but Charlotte has to be ready to answer the call when given the opportunity. The expectations of bringing back what the Hornets meant cannot solely rest on the shoulders of the five guys on the hardwood. To truly bring the buzz back, those lucky enough to fill the seats have to remember, or discover, what it means to be passionate about an NBA team.



1 i love your comments!:

K. Elizabeth @ YUMMommy said...

I was beyond excited when I first heard the buzz about that a name change might be possible. I grew up with my mom being a huge Charlotte Hornets fan. And I think that this is going to really have a positive impact on our team in terms of getting more fans out to games and events like they do for the Panthers.

You're going to have old Charlotte Hornets fans bringing out their families. Our NBA team has a come a long way and I hope that they continue to progress and get better so that people will take them more serious as a basketball team.

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