There’s not much better in sports than an old-fashioned rivalry. North Carolina-Duke, Yankees-Red Sox, Auburn-Alabama, Army-Navy... rivalry games define a successful season for many fans, and they’re always dates we circle on the calendar. So when the 2016-17 Charlotte Hornets schedule released last week, I immediately looked for...
Wait, who’s our rival again?
I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri as the son of a Michigan father, so rivalry is in my blood. Cardinals vs. Cubs series were must-attend events; Ohio State vs. Michigan is basically a national holiday for us (though a somber one of late).
But living in Charlotte, “rivalry” isn’t quite as clearcut. Many of us hate Atlanta for their traffic and concrete and obvious NFL-related reasons, but without a Charlotte MLB team, the Braves make Atlanta a sympathetic sports city for some as well. Who else? Miami? Orlando? Washington? Let’s take a look at our divisional opponents and an obvious sleeper pick that needs to get rivalry attention as well.
The Miami Heat
This season’s matchups: Home: December 29, April 5 - Away: October 28, March 8
The Heat are on our rivalry radar for obvious reasons. They eliminated us from the playoffs twice in the last three years; they have won our division five of the last six seasons; they have two championships in the last five years; and they’re an entirely unlikeable team, objectively.
The LeBron-Wade-Bosh era was nauseating for everyone not in South Florida, and their Marlins-esque quick-action dismantling made fans around the league throw their heads back and laugh. No Dwayne Wade, no LeBron James, probably no Chris Bosh? Will anyone attend their home games this season?
You’ve also got this guy to factor in.
Alonzo Mourning obviously started his career in Charlotte, but he made his name in Miami and still works for them as their Vice President of Player Programs. He left us, and yet we love him; he’s got a key to Buzz City, but his house is now in Miami.
All that said, if there’s a rivalry between Miami and Charlotte, it’s completely one-way. The Heat have had bigger concerns than the Purple-and-Teal (or the Blue-Gray-and-Orange) over the last decade, and we’re barely a blip on their radar. Hopefully that changes as we rise up and they fall away, but for now, the Heat probably shouldn’t be considered our top rival, even if our hate for them is strong.
Rivalry rating: 7/10.
The Washington Wizards
This season’s matchups: Home: January 23, March 18 - Away: December 14, April 4
So Washington D.C. is a divisional opponent that’s not far away... and that’s about all that makes this a rivalry candidate. They’ve got John Wall and Bradley Beal, but Kevin Durant spurned them for Golden State, so there’s not all that much going in DC these days. They’ve got Gortat and Mahinmi in the back court now? Is that something?
We’ll get to Atlanta in a minute, but for the Braves fans among us, the Nationals have become a decent rival. Why hasn’t that carried over to Wizards-Hornets? Probably because neither team has really challenged for much at the same time over the course of their respective histories.
The “Michael Jordan as former Wizards executive connection” might be the strongest link in a weak chain of Washington-Charlotte rivalry. That’s not much.
Rivalry rating: 2/10.
The Orlando Magic
This season’s matchups: Home: December 9, March 10 - Away: December 28, March 22
This is another divisional opponent that just doesn’t rise up to rival status. Orlando hasn’t been good in a long time, and while I’ve met a lot of Orlando/UCF transplants that have moved to Charlotte, the general Magic vibe is as blah as their new third jerseys.
I mean... that’s boring. So is this “rivalry candidate.” These are often the cheapest tickets on the resale market for the two games they visit each year, so...
Rivalry rating: 1/10.
The Atlanta Hawks
This season’s matchups: Home: November 18, March 20 - Away: December 17, April 11
Alright, now we’re talking.
Atlanta is close, just four hours away down I-85. Both Atlanta and Charlotte claim to be “the capital of the New South,” both are young and growing, and both therefore have fanbases full of transplants. The Hawks rebrand gave them the ugliest color scheme in the game, while the Hornets relaunch gave them the best.
So what’s stopping Hawks-Hornets from growing into the biggest rivalry in the South? Probably those transplants, to be honest.
The cities-full-of-transplants thing is a problem for sports franchises in the South and the West, as they have their teams from “back home” they care more about. That’s always going to bring apathy when it comes to local rivalries, so it applies across the board here. But apathy fades away when the teams are actually good.
The Hawks have made the playoffs for nine straight seasons; they’re clearly doing something right, and their Eastern Conference dominance gave them the top seed just two seasons ago (though they were easily swept aside by the Cavs). If the Hornets can continue to make the playoffs, a playoff series between the two could stoke the rivalry flame enough to get it blazing.
Besides, they just signed Dwight Howard, a player many Hornets fans wanted to acquire this offseason. Maybe that’ll help too.
That red-and-puke #8 is disgusting, let’s be honest. Would’ve looked so much better in Purple and Teal, Dwight. Your loss; looking forward to crushing you this season.
Rivalry rating: 9/10. Should be 11.
The New Orleans Pelicans
This season’s matchups: Home: March 11 - Away: November 19
Now, this is our darkhorse candidate. The Pelicans play in the Western Conference, thanks to stupid geography, so they’re not a divisional rival. But the city of New Orleans hasn’t been kind to Charlotte over the years. I’ll keep this short, so as not to twist the dagger too much.
The original Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans in 2002.
They kept the name... for ten years.
They won the top pick in the 2012 draft (after our Bobcats went 7-59) and selected Anthony Davis.
They’re likely taking the 2017 All-Star Game, which was yanked from Charlotte because of HB2.
So yeah, that’s enough for the foundations of a rivalry right there.
There’s talk about realignment, should the NBA move to expand to 32 teams, and if the Pelicans and Hornets end up in the same division, this would be a stronger candidate for top rivalry. Instead, it’s a once-a-year hatefest for Charlotte fans when the murder birds come to town. Still worth a mention.
Rivalry rating: 7/10.
So that’s it: a quick look at the Charlotte Hornets’ “rivalry” games in 2016. Did I miss anything? There were a few other teams considered, from Golden State for the Steph Curry years, to Toronto for stealing Bismack for last year’s playoffs, but I think we ran through the best candidates.
We ran a poll on Twitter about it... this is what you’re thinking:
Disagree with me putting the Hawks as number one? Let us know in the comments, or yell at us (or me) on Twitter. Thanks for reading, looking forward to seeing you at the Hawks-Hornets rivalry games at the Hive this season. I’ll be the one wearing an “Atlanta Sucks” t-shirt.