It has been nearly nine years since the Charlotte Hornets played their last game as residents of the Queen City. A second-round playoff loss to the New Jersey Nets punched the team's ticket to New Orleans, ending a whirlwind relationship between the City of Charlotte and the NBA.
For the Hornets' first seven seasons in the league they led the NBA in attendance, and at one point sold out 358 consecutive games over almost nine seasons.The fans in Charlotte loved their team and loved having professional sports in the city. Players like Alonzo Mourning, Muggsy Bogues, and Larry Johnson were heroes around town and life was great inside the Charlotte Coliseum.
It wasn't until these players, along with other fan favorites that came after them, that the love affair died down. While the Hornets were still competitive, reaching the playoffs in six of eight seasons between 1995-2002, decisions by owner George Shinn were starting to turn off fans. In the 1999-2000 season, when Shinn was accused of raping a Hornets cheerleader back in 1997, public support for the team took a nose dive.
Although Shinn was never convicted, he went into a media exile after the accusations came to light, further damaging his reputation with the fans. Many once-loyal season ticket holders refused to put money in Shinn's pockets, leaving the Charlotte Coliseum, which was once a bustling center of activity on game nights, half full on most occasions.
Shinn further distanced himself from both fans and city officials when he demanded a new arena be built at no cost to him. After a referendum for a new arena was turned down by voters, the city put together a plan to build the new arena with one stipulation; Shinn must sell the team. The NBA realized the method behind the city's demands but ultimately refused to back them on the statement, fearing it would anger other league owners.
On May 10, 2002, the Hornets' move to New Orleans was approved and five days later the team was eliminated from the playoffs, effectively ending their run in Charlotte.
Part of the league's agreement to move the Hornets to New Orleans included a promise to Charlotte to give them a new team for the 2004-05 season. Entertainment mogul Bob Johnson would end up as the original owner of that new team, ironically named the Bobcats.
Johnson would show an inability to handle the financial challenges associated with owning a professional sports team, and had already lost the support of the Charlotte fan base within a few years of the Bobcats' existence. Johnson put the team up for sale in June of 2009 and almost immediately, Michael Jordan was named as a leading candidate to acquire the team. Jordan had been involved in talks to obtain a piece of the Hornets franchise during its time in Charlotte, but those talks fell through when Shinn refused to give him full control of basketball operations.
Jordan was awarded the team in February of 2010, and under his ownership the Bobcats made a push for their first playoff appearance in franchise history. Jordan is charged with turning Charlotte back into a lively NBA city and the Bobcats into a legitimate Eastern Conference contender.
So far it seems that Jordan has done a decent job on both of those fronts, but the atmosphere at Time Warner Cable arena still doesn't seem quite "Hive-like."
What better way to change that than bringing the Hornets back?
No, I'm not talking about Chris Paul, David West, and the rest of the players, but the name on the front of their jerseys. Bring back the teal and purple, Hugo, Super Hugo, and the intensity and pride of "Alive at the Hive."
Now that George Shinn has finally been ousted from the NBA, and the New Orleans franchise is owned by the league, that dream could become a reality.
The NBA is seriously considering a move that would take the New Orleans franchise to Seattle, a city that was stripped of it's NBA team in a situation similar to that of Charlotte's. A team in Seattle would likely be named the Sonics, just like the team that played there before. This would leave the naming rights to the Hornets up for grabs.
Obviously, the NBA is not very concerned about team names being associated with the cities the franchises currently play in. Otherwise, the Lakers and Jazz would have switched names when they moved, and the Timberwolves and Hornets would have taken those titles. With that being said, the Bobcats could have a unique opportunity to have the rights to their city's original team name not owned by anybody. It is estimated that switching from Bobcats to Hornets would cost the franchise between $3 million and $10 million, but the boost in fan support could make that investment more than worth it.
The city of Charlotte did not fall out of love with the Hornets, they grew tired of George Shinn and his misguided decisions and senseless actions. The Hornets were named for the North Carolina soldiers during the Revolutionary War, who led British Lord General Cornwallis to refer to the state as a "veritable nest of hornets." The name belongs in this state, and every Bobcats fan who was once a Hornets fan has to agree with that.
Granted, Charlotte won't be home to the Hornets' history and the jerseys in the rafters won't be the same, but the idea behind the Hornets would be. A fresh, new start for a city in the heart of basketball country that has been backhanded by the NBA on more that one occasion.
There is a vast population of younger people in Charlotte, myself included, who had their childhood team ripped away from them by the greed and incompetence of the team's ownership. While the Bobcats are the name of the city's team now, seeing the Hornets namesake sprawled across the chest of another team doesn't sit well with that group or with anyone who was once a true Hornets fan.