Emeka Okafor over Dwight Howard. In 2004, that was the common mindset of many NBA experts and fans entering that year's NBA Draft. Okafor had just finished his fourth year at UCONN, and was entering the NBA as a primed and ready big man with all kinds of talent just waiting to be tapped in the NBA. Right next to Okafor was another big man out of Southwest Christian Academy High School named Dwight Howard. It was not yet known that the 18 year old Howard would become one of the NBA's best big men in the NBA by 2008, lead a team to the NBA Finals in 2009, compete for an MVP trophy in 2011, and win three straight Defensive Player of the Year trophies along the way. At the time, he was just a big guy out of high school during a time where potential still wasn't the highest priority in the draft.
Meanwhile, sitting with the second overall pick in this draft, was a brand new franchise by the name of the Charlotte Bobcats. Two years ago, Charlotte had an NBA team, but it was taken away from them because they refused to support a crook. Now, they had a chance for it all to begin anew, and would end up with one of these two big men. However, it was hard to believe they were in this situation in the first place.
As the Charlotte Hornets moved away to New Orleans back in 2002 so went away years of NBA history, and a franchise that the city was quite proud of. The NBA may claim that there was no support for the team, but this was a city's protest against a crooked owner that they refused to support. Why should they give their money towards a man like George Shinn, and how could the NBA do worse by supporting his removal of their beloved team?
In an effort to amend their mistake, it wasn't long before the NBA chose to reward Charlotte with another NBA franchise. However, this would not be the Hornets, but an expansion team led by Robert L. Johnson. The soon to be majority owner, Johnson, became the first African-American Billionaire and was the founder of Black Entertainment Television. His credentials as a businessman were top notch, but his ego might have been a little bit too large for fans of the city. While there's no actual proof, many believe the name "Bobcats" came from the owner wanting to name the team after himself in some form. Considering the franchise did its best to disassociate itself from the "Bob" part of the name, later on it's lifespan, that rumor probably has some merit to it. Obviously fans wanted their old Hornets name back, but that crook from earlier took the name with him to New Orleans and wasn't going to give it up.
Even so, the name of the team aside, everybody knew that winning would fix any issues that fans may have had with the name, or the owner possibly naming it after himself, and the best part was Charlotte sitting at second in the draft in prime position to get the franchise off to a great start. Even better for the franchise, the Orlando Magic took Dwight Howard at number one instead of the much more praised Okafor. Things were already on the upswing.
Of course, most people know how the story goes, Okafor turned out to be a pretty good NBA player. He averaged a double double in points and rebounds his rookie year, and his defense became something of a calling card for him as his career went on. However, a franchise player Okafor was not. He spent his entire career in Charlotte averaging a double double in points and rebounds, but was never able to become the offensive or defensive threat the team wanted him to be. He couldn't majorly change a game with his play, or put the team on his back and lead them to a win. No, he was just a good player that could put up about 10 to 15 points per game while eating up on the boards with a usual average of 10 rebounds. Solid numbers for any starting big man. He was always a plus defender, but that just wasn't good enough when comparing him to the guy that got took in front of him.
This isn't fair, and never will be fair, but a perception against Okafor will always be that he was the guy that got taken behind Dwight Howard. For every double double Okafor put up, Howard would put up an even better one, and then he'd make a highlight by send a block into the fourth row on top of that. The NBA world watched as Howard turned into a superstar, and couldn't be stopped by anybody thanks to raw power. His ability in the pick and roll was perfect for the changing offenses of the NBA, and his defense was otherworldly. He was at a level that Okafor couldn't reach, and while that should be okay, it's always something that will be held against the former number two pick.
Which really is not okay. Okafor's career in Charlotte should not be judged as what he wasn't, but what he was. He was the first player picked in the revival of the franchise, and on top of that he was a pretty good player too. Averaging a double double every year isn't exactly easy, and he was a plus defender. However, he definitely had shortcomings. His offense was never as good as it probably needed to be, and that was a liability at times when he was put on the floor with lineups lacking weapons. That said, he managed to be fairly efficient his final three years in Charlotte when he never had a True Shooting percentage below 55 percent.
Now, with Okafor gone, Robert Johnson gone, and the Bobcats gone, the history of Charlotte basketball is a little strange. When the team took back the Hornets name they also gained back their pre-Bobcats history. For some fans this is great, because those are cherished memories. For others, this is a slight against the current franchise. To them, this franchise started in 2004, and Emeka Okafor was their first draft pick. This might be a debate among Charlotte fans, but there is one thing that everybody can agree on, Okafor represents the revival of Charlotte basketball, and he wasn't too bad either. That's pretty cool considering how many negative ways people remember the Bobcats name.