Rufus on Fire Bobcats retrospective roundtable

Doug Benc

Relive your favorite Bobcats moments and look back on what is soon to be history with our writers, some newer and some older.

1) Why have we been Bobcats fans through it all?

Ben: I certainly can't speak for everyone, but it definitely feels like a kind of trivial test of the human spirit. Sports aren't the biggest deal in the world. They can set a backdrop for social change and help form terrific bonds with people, and I don't want to diminish that whatsoever, but it's still just a bunch of folks putting a ball in a hoop.

We certainly could have just become general fans or fans of a more successful or a more exciting team or a team that didn't become nearly synonymous with abject failure, but we didn't. Human nature is not easy to dissect, but for many of us it's because it's not the easy path, and that the more difficult path promises a more rewarding peak. Regional alliance and hometown pride can certainly bind some of us to loving a team, too. Plus there's something lovable about a bunch of losers, like loving Chaplin's tramp. We just haven't gotten the girl yet.

Chris: I've never considered myself a Bobcats fan but ever since starting to write here I've gotten a soft spot for this team. I have to imagine seasons like this are why real Bobcats fans suffered through it all. Years of misery because you all knew that day you returned to relevance would be the sweetest day.

David: First and foremost we all have a great sense of humor. And apparently we don't take ourselves too serious. Being a Bobcats fan is a badge of honor in some ways. Certainly the Hornets will bring back a lot of fans that refused to support the Bobcats because of how some letters are ordered to form a name. But I think that's a somewhat extreme set of fans. For the most part it took a pretty die-hard NBA fan or Charlotte supporter to stick with and watch the Bobcats over the last 10 years. So there is a certain band-of-brothers feeling you have with your fellow Cats fan who sat through some awful ... AWFUL ... basketball more often than not. That's a big part of what made this season so special. After a decade of trying to get back in the circle of legitimate NBA teams Charlotte finally did that this season. Cats fans at some point all felt pride, shame, happiness, sadness, depression, excitement and fear. When you really got down you could always find some humor in the latest Bobcat free agent signing. At the same time it was ok for Bobcats fans to laugh at the team, but not the rest of the NBA. That's what formed a defensive sort of parental notion for fans. Only we can do that to our pledges. Having your NBA team taken away, then getting another one back, then losing the name of that one to get the original name back is a crazy situation, very unique.

Derek: For me, you go through the bad to make the good more gratifying. You also don't want to be a frontrunner who cheers for whichever team is on the come up and want to see if your hometown team can turn it around. Granted, I'm not from the area, but it's been a joy to watch this team come together, grow and find success again. That's been why for me, and believe me, this isn't the first time I've been asked this question.

Tucker: Well, who else am I going to root for? I got into NBA fandom in 2004 when my then-favorite college player, Emeka Okafor, left after his junior year, and I decided I'd adopt his first professional team as my team. From watching him go under the radar as a poor man's Elton Brand (who gets my vote for most underrated player of the 2000s) for seemingly his entire career, to the success of Gerald Wallace, to the undeniable fun of Captain Jack, to drafting ANOTHER player that led my favorite college squad to a title...it's been fun. Except for all the times when it was miserable (Lookin' at you, Cory Higgins). But it's been a fun type of misery.

2) Where did this final Bobcats season rank for you in their history? Which season was their best, in your opinion?

Ben: I think it might be my favorite, but on a pure visceral level, I might rank it behind the 2010 season. I think this past season's is better across the board in many important areas. They finished stronger, had a more balanced style on offense, had a dominant scoring threat and have a much brighter future. The 2010 team had a weak offense, counterbalanced by an insanely vicious defense and then they traded for Tyrus Thomas, leaving them with one less first-round pick in the future, which practically ensured they had to re-sign him in the offseason, and they had a majority of their best players on big contracts past their prime. But what the 2010 team has that this year's didn't is that they were the first good Bobcats team. They got the city excited, and from my memory, that playoff crowd in 2010 was a bit louder than the ones I saw last week (which isn't to say that's a big deal: the Heat draw bigger crowds with LeBron than the 2010 Magic did with Dwight). There's a little added value to be the first, even if they weren't the best. Doing my best for an objective take, I'd take this year's team over the 2010 one, however.

Chris: I'd personally rank this team above the other playoff team. Many people knew the team that made the playoffs back in 2010 wasn't going to be anything more than what they were. This team has a legitimate future.

David: It was this season. The previous playoff season has almost been glossed over this year because it was such a blip on the radar, and because it was immediately followed by an implosion. At the end that team wasn't very fun to watch and Larry Brown eventually did what most were just waiting for him to do. Give him his due of course, the man is a basketball genius and did guide a pretty limited group to the playoffs. However this season has a much more encouraging feeling about it. Fans finally saw a relevant NBA team playing in Charlotte, and knowing how difficult it was to get there it makes this season all the more rewarding. The best part is this team is not maxed out so there is more to do. And you don't have the same fear of the coach getting out of town (hire someone already, Lakers). Throw in the fact that this team was fun to watch, had great chemistry, had players who were easy to get behind and this is by far the best Bobcat team, ever.

Derek: I have to plead ignorance here since I wasn't following the team too closely then, but it could very well be a 1a and 1b situation.

Tucker: This was the best season they've ever had. While the 2010 playoff team was a quality squad that played good defense, they were never going to make it out of the first round. This year, I felt they would have had a solid chance to upsetting any first-round opponent besides the Heat. The disappointment I had when they drew Miami as their first matchup wasn't just because I wasn't ready for the season to end like that, but also because, under different circumstances, the Bobcats could have won.

3) Where does Al Jefferson rank in the pantheon of Bobcats players?

Ben: Al Jefferson might have had the best single season of any Charlotte Bobcat, but I think the longevity Gerald Wallace had here, despite injuries, puts Crash atop the list. Jefferson is the best scoring big man they've ever had, and had the best scoring season since Jason Richardson, I would say, especially given the offensive burden he had to take on. But Wallace became a major threat on offense and defense after battling injuries and developing his game. Even with an unorthodox jump shot, Wallace could attack the rim with reckless abandon and had some great scoring performances, not to mention his nightly all-out defensive efforts. But give Jefferson another year or two and he might have it.

Chris: Up there with Gerald Wallace has one of the best in the franchises history.

David: He's the most dominant player the Bobcats have ever had. He's better at scoring in the low post than any Bobcat player has ever been at one singular act. Gerald Wallace's hustle could definitely rival Jefferson's offensive skills. But Jefferson was such a reliable and dominating All-NBA presence that at times he could simply not be denied. The fact that his defense also anchored a top 10 unit, when most figure he would destroy any defensive progress the team would make, only adds to his value. I don't know that the Bobcats have had a player other teams had to game plan around, but Jefferson was definitely that player.

Derek: I mean, it's Jefferson or Crash, right? For now, I'll give it to Crash because he has tenure on Jefferson, but Al is on his way.

Tucker: With just one season in Charlotte, it's a little tough to say, given how weird it can be to rank one season of greatness against full careers, and I don't want to understate how good previous players like Okafor and Crash were. That being said, Jefferson is pretty easily the best offensive player the Bobcats have ever had, and no Bobcat had ever played a single season as well as Jefferson this year. I'll rank them Wallace, Jefferson, Okafor right now, with the caveat that Jefferson would easily earn the number one slot with a comparable season in 2014-15.

4) What are your favorite Bobcats memories?

Ben: As I mentioned before, that first home playoff match in Game 3 of the 2010 Playoffs was something special for me, and sharing that moment with my father becomes ever more important to me with each passing year. And then there's all the other moments that have stuck out to me: Stephen Jackson being a daggone lovable ball of energy interacting with kids at a Special Olympics event; Gerald Wallace taking a picture with our cardboard cutout of him; any number of Gerald Wallace dunks; Walter Herrmann's rookie of the month at age 26 was a burst of eccentricity that you couldn't help but love with his loping style and moves created with enormous claws that resemble human hands.

Plus one time in 2010, I caught a ride down from Chapel Hill on Easter weekend to see the Bobcats play the Bucks, who, at the time, had rookie sensation Brandon Jennings and pre-injury Andrew Bogut. I had purchased tickets online for seats about five rows from the court for $5 apiece, figuring I was getting scammed but taking the risk just in case it turned out to be legit. The tickets arrived in the mail and upon opening the envelope, I noticed a hand-written note from the tickets' owner: He had mistakenly listed the tickets missing a zero or two, but was willing to swallow the loss and told me to enjoy the game. That night Larry Brown got ejected in the second quarter, Bogut swallowed up seven Bobcats shot attempts, John Salmons and Stephen Jackson went toe-to-toe dropping a combined 60 points but neither team could get a lead bigger than seven points and they went to overtime with the Bobcats taking the win at home in a loud playoff level atmosphere.

Chris: http://gifsound.com/?gif=cdn2.sbnation.com/imported_assets/1411291/lulzcats.gif&v=ZnHmskwqCCQ

David: The first game in the new arena was a nice night, and a win! Then...so much darkness and cold. Larry Brown's playoff season was fun because it revived some of the NBA energy in Charlotte. The wild and crazy, free-wheeling trades the Bobcats made had some fun moments. Bringing in guys like Jason Richardson, Stephen Jackson, Tyson Chandler and Boris Diaw injected skills and energy into teams that desperately needed it. Paul Silas' face palm was great. Bernie Bickerstaff's court stomping was the more aggressive predecessor to Silas' reaction, and equally as entertaining. Bickerstaff fought tooth and nail for a team that was short on skill and even shorter on respect from the officials (probably for good reason). Of course looking back even the awful things seem to have a certain charm. The Sam Vincent and Mike Dunlap "eras" happened. So many draft picks that misfired, or never fired at all. Now all of that is almost endearing. Almost. Michael Jordan taking over majority ownership turns out to be maybe the most important turning point for the team. Original owner Bob Johnson had little interest in operating the team in a way that would give it the best chance to succeed on the court or off. Jordan stepping in was key. The transition and years to follow weren't all smooth, but hiring Rich Cho and turning the corner this year were major steps in the right direction.

Derek: The Pacers blowout was fun, and of course making the playoffs. Of course, Byron Mullens taking atrocious threes is on the list in its own way.

Tucker: Gerald Wallace's hustle, Emeka's consistency, Boris Diaw being Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson's crazy, Adam Morrison's pre-injury status, Walter Hermann's hair (and Josh McRoberts' immediate adoption of the style), James Southerland's three-minute Bobcats career, Rich Cho's trading genius, Gana Diop's free throws, Bismack's swats, Kemba's quickness (and smile, it's gotta be said), Byron Mullens' removal from the team, Derrick Brown's just kinda being there for so long, the minor resurgences of Shaun Livingston, Kwame Brown, and Theo Ratliff, the presence of Juwan Howard (although, it must be said, I have absolutely no memory of ever watching him play a game for the Bobcats), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's motor, Cody Zeller's sudden explosions (why the #DiabloCody hashtag has not caught on yet is beyond me), the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee, Paul Silas' facepalms, and, of course, Jake Voskuhl.

5) What will you miss most about the Bobcats?

Ben: I suppose I'll miss the sheer ability to surprise people. The Bobcats name has of course come to be associated with ineptitude, but the neat thing about that is that when the Bobcats are good or beating a good team, it never ceases to send opposing fans into hysterics. Earlier this season when the Bobcats went up 20 points on the Lakers, scoring 62 points in the first half, their fans took to Twitter to register their incredulity, despite the Bobcats having the better record. As I mused at the time, perhaps the Bobcats' new name should have been "The Charlotte F****** BOBCATS THO?". I also liked the challenge of trying to start a new basketball culture with a new franchise and building a new base, but I won't miss the particular difficulties of that. Having a better foothold in the community is more important and the Hornets name has such a natural tie to the area already.

And Rufus.

Chris: The vast array of ways to say their name. Kitties, kittehs (long live the itteh bitteh kitteh lineup), Cats, and being able to laugh at cocky fans cause they lost to the Bobcats.

David: Rufus. Obviously. And also the Bobcats fans who were on board from day one. Because chances are if you were on board then you're still on board now. Of course Bobcat fans will become Hornets fans, and be joined by many more people, which is a fantastic thing. But to those fans that showed up during the lockout season, during the Sam Vincent season, during the first season at the old Charlotte Coliseum, they were just happy to have the NBA in Charlotte. And that spirit will hopefully remain but it will never quite be the same. So salute to you, Charlotte NBA diehards.

Derek: As strange as it sounds, I'll kind of miss everything that comes with the Bobcats name. When people learn you follow the Bobcats, you get their attention. Most of all, I'll miss Rufus.

Tucker: Bob Johnso- hahahahahahahah I can't even type that with a straight face. (Editor's note: Johnson is still owns a small share of the team. Sorry, Tucker. - Ben)

6) Name your Bobcats All-Time Starting Five

Ben: Kemba Walker, Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor, Al Jefferson. Can I put Okafor at power forward? He definitely deserves that spot over Diaw. Let's do it. That's a fun squad right there.

Chris: Kemba Walker, Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Josh McRoberts, Al Jefferson.

David: Kemba Walker at point guard, Stephen Jackson at shooting guard, Gerald Wallace at small forward, Boris Diaw at power forward and Al Jefferson at center.

Derek:

PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Stephen Jackson
SF: Gerald Wallace
PF: Al Jefferson
C: Emeka Okafor

I made this easier on myself by sliding Jefferson back to his old position since I was struggling to find a solid option at the four.

Tucker:

PG- Kemba Walker
SG- Stephen Jackson
SF- Gerald Wallace
PF- Emeka Okafor
C- Al Jefferson

And, for the fun of it, the bench unit: Ray Felton, Gerald Henderson, Jason Richardson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Boris Diaw, Nazr Mohammed, with Jake Voskuhl and Walter Herrmann as reserves.

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