The internet has had no shortage of Bobcats retrospectives now that the team is ending that nomenclature this summer, which is kind of funny to me given the team's stunning lack of coverage prior to this season.
Anyway, the most interesting story to me has been the one of the Bobcats' branding, which confirms the narcissistic domineering of the Bobcats franchise brand by original majority owner Bob Johnson, now a minority-owner having sold all but a little of his share of the team to Michael Jordan.
The association between the name "Bobcats" and Johnson's first name had been assumed but never concretely confirmed until now:
Bobcats was sort of handed to us by Bob Johnson because of his first name. We bantered about it and we said, "Hey, you know, Flight tested better..." and he'd go "I've got 300 million reasons why I think it should be Bobcats," and that was it."
- Tom O' Grady, president and CEO of Gameplan Creative, the company contracted to design the logo and branding when the city was awarded the team
Johnson paid $300 million to become the team's owner in December of 2002.
The original owner's controversial presence and statements constantly grated against the community and did nothing to help endear the new team to a city that had a sour taste left in their mouths after George Shinn moved the team to New Orleans following a infamous sexual assault case that alienated Shinn and the Hornets to Charlotte.
Needing a foothold in the city, the Bobcats found little and struggled to find success in their first years despite increasing wins in each of their first three seasons. Their plans went awry as the front office misguidedly hired Sam Vincent as head coach and draft picks didn't pan out as planned. They mired in inconsistency until Larry Brown arrived, taking the team to its ceiling with a 7-seeded team that got swept in 2010.
O'Grady said the weak and constantly changing brand identity hurt the team, too.
"I think they kind of botched it," said O'Grady, who was not involved with design decisions regarding the logo after handing it over to the team. "They kind of stunted its growth before it got a chance to ever blossom. They started chopping it up and changing its colors. I think they've had four uniform changes in a little bit over 11 years. They had no brand continuity there whatsoever."
The Bobcats changed their colors or logos almost yearly. They originally had a garish reddish-orange that at least was unique to the team, then moved to a more normal orange, greyed up their blue, then added a light blue and made grey a bigger part of their color scheme as they moved orange into a much more minor part of the team's colors. They had ten alternative logos, as sportslogos.net has cataloged. They incorporated pinstripes for two seasons then abandoned it.
What is clear is that a team owner with an overactive ego hijacked a process that could have made much better community ties and an ever-changing brand consistently made the team look indecisive and lacking a concrete idea for what the team's brand should look like. That's hardly what you want to broadcast to a recovering market fanbase or to free agents who are looking for some kind of foundation that doesn't seem like its changing its mind from one moment to the next.
The Pelicans' name change opened the door for the Bobcats to finally claim the name best associated with Charlotte. They can finally lay the foundation for a cohesive brand that's well-established and with a team finding a foothold in consistent on-court play, they've got a brighter future on and off the court.