I will miss you, Hugo
I was born and raised in what is referred to as the "Gateway to New Orleans"; a small town in Southeast Louisiana named Ponchatoula. For the first major part of my life, I grew up in that area that was void of basketball; which was always my first love. One of my earliest memories with basketball is watching Alonzo Mourning hit that game winning shot against the Boston Celtics in the 1993 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. For my sixth birthday, I was rewarded with a purple Larry Johnson jersey and a teal Muggsy Bogues jersey, my two favorite players, and I was hooked. Hornets basketball was all I ate, slept and breathed for a huge period of my childhood. And as I matured and my basketball tastes developed, I still stuck with the team in the face of Michael Jordan seemingly always showing off against his hometown team and despite the team's inability to ever make huge noise in the postseason. It was just an affection for a team that's so rare in so many people. It had nothing to do with regional affiliation, it was just a boy cheering for his favorite team. It's what makes sports so personal for so many people. You develop attachments to teams and players who don't know you exist and you do so for no personal reason; only to grow up liking that team and only that team.
I didn't know how to react when the Hornets filed for relocation to Memphis in 2001, only to be shot down by the NBA, who rewarded the city to the Vancouver Grizzlies. Going back to Charlotte and hearing rumors of stadium deals, ownership scandals, declining attendance, etc., didn't make much sense to a 14 year old who just wanted to see a healthy Baron Davis and Jamal Mashburn in the postseason. But when the Hornets filed for relocation to New Orleans, I had felt a joy that very few can truly experience. It's one thing to live in an area, cheer for a team that's in that area, and then grow up with it. If you take the time to look at my profile, you'll notice that my favorite teams have nothing to do with areas that I grew up in (except for my favorite college team - Go Roadrunners!). So to experience the utter joy of having your favorite basketball team actually relocate to where you currently are, it was as rewarding an experience as I can think of. In August of 2002, I was told I would be moving in with my dad in San Antonio, TX (three months before the Hornets were to begin play in New Orleans), and my life as a nomadic fan continued. I was able to take in the first game against the Jazz at the New Orleans Arena (standing room only) before I left, but it was less than what I truly wanted.
Over time, people never questioned my admiration for the Hornets the way they questioned my admiration for my other teams: the Oakland A's and the San Diego Chargers. All I would have to say is I was from Louisiana, and people would forgive me for liking such a random team (also a team that's a division rival in my current city of San Antonio). But that's doing a disservice to a franchise I loved since before they were the "Big Easy Bugs." When you ask me about the Hornets, I don't skip the Glen Rice's or the Bobby Phills' or the Anthony Mason's or even the Vlade Divac's (or Derrick Coleman's) who put on the jersey before the team ever became an "accepted hometown team."
With new owner Tom Benson now coming in to the Hornets organization, there's a new era of stability and a new era of promise that awaits long suffering Hornets fans. No longer are the fans going to be subjected to ridiculous attendance benchmarks, faced with substantial odds and lamented with ridicule from the media about whether or not they can support a team. The Hornets belong to New Orleans and now, almost ten years after the team filed for relocation to New Orleans, the franchise finally feels like there's a legitimate feel for the NBA in the Crescent City. But all of that comes with a price; and that price is giving the Hornets the legitimate feel in the Crescent City.
Tom Benson will do away with the Hornets' nickname. I've relented to the fact that it's for the better of the franchise and for the better of the city of New Orleans. Honestly, they deserve a name more representative of the cultured history and atmospheric joy that I was surrounded by growing up. The closest thing we get to Hornets in New Orleans is probably the mosquitoes that carried the West Nile virus into the new millennium. But with the name change comes some bittersweet resentment on my part. While the fans New Orleans deserve to have a team that they can feel represents who they are; the fans of the Hornets who followed the team to New Orleans deserve their fair shake with the team as well. Should the Hornets name be returned to Charlotte and should they carry on the jersey, my loyalty would remain with New Orleans but it would still pain me to see my childhood team now be a separate franchise.
And while the organization certainly should appeal to the city it resides in and not the fans who cheer for the team all over the world, I can't help but feel left out in the rebranding conversations. But no matter what happens, I'm In for basketball in New Orleans. And I'll always be a Hornets fan. And I guess that's why rebranding isn't great for everyone.