We all know that a name does not necessarily make a successful franchise. We've heard the argument that it doesn't matter what the name is if the results are not there on the court. Well none of that speculation matters anymore as the renaming and rebranding of the Charlotte NBA team has become official. This is not about wins, so don't make it about wins. This is not being done because it will help them win. The Charlotte Hornets are back and it feels so good, and a little weird.
As someone who grew up with the Hornets there is certainly reason to be excited. Outside of area ties to teams and the sport of NASCAR, the NBA was the first major sports league to welcome Charlotte into its exclusive club. And it changed everything.
On opening night everyone was encouraged to wear formal attire, and they did. It's wild to imagine black tie at an NBA game in Charlotte. In 1988. The hair was also amazing.
It helped put Charlotte on the map. It even put the Carolinas on the map even because some folks didn't know if Charlotte was in North Carolina, South Carolina ... Virginia? (Ed. note: At the time people confused Charlottesville with Charlotte, it was that under the radar - Ben) But before long the Charlotte Hornets were actually being mentioned on SportsCenter, in the pages of Sports Illustrated, in video games (BOOM-SHAKA-LAKA)! Charlotte was now on the nation's radar and it gave everyone in the city a sense of pride.
The city was so effing jacked for the NBA it sold out that old Charlotte Coliseum nightly -- an arena that at the time held the most seats of any NBA team ever. And this was not a good team. People didn't care. A major league show was in town and people wanted to see it. They wanted to be a part of it. That was enough.
Hornets games weren't just basketball games, they were events. They were the place to be and the place to be seen. EVERYONE was going to these games and if they weren't they said they were.
If it sounds like Charlotte was young, it was. And it wasn't about winning then either. It was about a team and a city coming together. And of course it was about the NBA, and basketball.
Through the years the Hornets got bigger - bigger than Charlotte, really, as young stars began to make up more of the roster. The Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning teams went viral before there was viral. The diminutive Muggsy Bogues had a fan in every child who watched. The Hornets colors, logo, and branding were the most popular thing on every shelf, and not just in Charlotte. Hornets Starter Jackets became an iconic symbol of the era. Teal became a go-to color for teams looking to rebrand. Johnson's Grandmama alter ego was the biggest marketing campaign this side of Air Jordan. Grandmama ended up on sitcoms. He played basketball with Urkel. Urkel.
Beating the legendary Celtics for the first ever playoff series win, Rex Chapman in the dunk contest, hosting the All-Star game, beating Michael Jordan and the Bulls, Glen Rice winning All-Star game MVP. Grandmama. Muggsy. Mash. B-Diddy. Dr. K. Every Hornets fan has their favorite moments and players.
Banners were hung for attendance championships (they led the league in attendance for seven consecutive years).
And yes there were wins. There were playoff wins. But the success out of the gate was about this newness; this novelty that captured a town at the exact time it was becoming a city. It's lame to say it was a magical time but it was a magical time. It really was. Until it wasn't.
The George Shinn scandal turned so many off to the Hornets and the NBA, that the last game was sparsely attended. The Hornets' home attendance in the playoffs was poor: The combined attendance of Games 1 and 2 against the Orlando Magic in 2002 was 19,828, which was still a few thousand from filling the almost 24,000 seats of the Coliseum. The final home game, a playoff game against the New Jersey Nets in the next round had an attendance of 13,864. It was sad. At the very end you knew the team was leaving. And most people not only didn't give a damn, they were almost supportive. If not supportive they were at the very least not interested in saving the NBA in Charlotte.
That first season in New Orleans was like watching your ex-girlfriend date another guy. I don't especially like girlfriend analogies but that is truly what this sinking, desperate feeling was like. And of course New Orleans loved the Hornets. They seemed so happy together. And Charlotte was left all alone.
Those that still loved the NBA of course kept watching. And I'm sure some kept that rooting interest in the Hornets the whole time. But it was certainly never the same. And every season it got easier to disassociate from that team, until there wasn't any association at all.
Charlotte NBA fans had to go elsewhere for allegiance. And those that left completely didn't really care to return. Maybe the fans were different. The city was certainly different. There was more to do in Charlotte.
When David Stern guided the return of the NBA to the city it was not met with any of the same fanfare as the first iteration. Bob Johnson bumbling the launch didn't help matters. The idea of the Hornets could not have been deader. Dead and gone, never to return it seemed. The crowd changed. It was gone.
In its place was a smaller version. One that was glad the NBA returned, in whatever form it could. But the Bobcats tripped out of the starting gate and took almost a decade to recover. By the time they did the noise about the Hornets name returning was picking up steam. The name would bring in some of the fringe fans. Fans who swore to only cheer for the team if it was called the Hornets, whatever kind of sense that makes.
Once the team did its due diligence and realized the overwhelming support (not to mention marketing dollars) that would come with the name change, it was really a no-brainer.
It is a very unique situation. To have a team and then to not have a team and then get a team but not the name. Then the name becomes available and then get the name back. It's weird. And it's not a situation you really thought would happen. I know it seems like this is a bigger deal than it should be. It is just a name, after all. Isn't it?
I mean no sooner was the Bobcats name retired than the new Hornets logo popped out of an envelope on national TV during the NBA Draft Lottery signaling Charlotte's ownership of Detroit's pick at number nine in the upcoming draft. If the lottery hated the Bobcats, and by all accounts and actual proof it DESPISED Rufus and company, it just might love the Hornets. The Bobcats never caught a break in the lottery. And maybe by shaking up the universe on the same day as the lottery it spun things back in the team's favor.
That fresh newness, that energy, that nostalgia that comes with the name returning, that's what make this all feel so refreshed again to Charlotte NBA fans. No wins will come with the new name. Any goodwill likely won't last very long, but it is an exciting time and coupled with the lottery luck perhaps the most successful day in the history of this franchise since it returned. Whatever it all means it just feels right, and yes a little weird. Still, you get the feeling this is the way it was meant to be all along.