Retrospective: The Charlotte Hornets
By: Randy Cruz (@cruzr83)
The Charlotte Hornets are coming back to the NBA next season. Since 2002, fans wondered if we would ever see the purple and teal team that was a fan favorite throughout the late 1980's and 1990's again.
That wait is over.
Once the announcement came in July that the NBA Board of Governors approved the Charlotte Bobcats name change for the 2014-15 season, I was one of many who was ecstatic to have the "Charlotte Hornets" back -- no offense to the Bobcats -- the name just didn't ring with me and many would agree. Regardless of who's on the team next year, all Charlotte Hornets games will be watched by me on NBA League Pass.
As of last week, there was still no official word on the color scheme Bobcats President Fred Whitfield was going to pick for the Hornets, but in a recent interview with the Charlotte Observer, Whitfield said "we listened to our fans, and that's what led us in this direction."
Whitfield continued: "We thought it was very important for us to listen to our fans and the overall community. There seemed to be an overwhelming desire to pay homage to the legacy of the Hornets, from their time here before."
The same purple and teal team that debuted in 1988 and moved in 2002 will be back next season like they never left -- and that has me, the fan, very excited.
Pete Guelli, the Bobcats Chief Marketing Officer, would add at the end of the interview: "We have an obligation to do this thing right. When people walk into the arena in the fall of 2014, they need to know this is no longer a Bobcats experience. It’s a Hornets experience.”
The Hornets franchise was heavily missed -- from a team aspect, as well as from a design and marketing aspect.
Do you know how many people are going to buy Charlotte Hornets gear when they're officially back? They're still throwback until next season, but anything with purple and teal is marketable. Hats, jackets, jerseys, shorts, everything is marketable. The colors alone set off an enormous fashion craze during their era -- and of course we can't forget Hugo, the signature hornets logo, which to me is one of the all time greatest logos in NBA history (aside from the Hawks pac-man, Nuggets city line and the tri-colored Spurs logos).
By 1995, the Hornets merchandise was the hottest seller in the NBA (this is also the time when the alternate purple uniforms were debuted as well) and rightfully so -- I bought a few Starter jackets and hats myself.
Their arena, the Charlotte Coliseum, aka "The Hive", was also one of the best and loudest places to play in the NBA back then -- and the Coliseum was indeed rocking in Charlotte. The Hornets were able to lead the NBA in attendance for many years -- also selling out the arena for 364 consecutive games (from December 1988 to November 1997).
Many great playoff games were held at "The Hive" including the 1993 Playoffs when they upset the Boston Celtics as a five seed in Game 4 -- many remember that game as the "Alonzo Mourning game winner from the top of the key" game. They would advance to the second round in the 1993 Playoffs before being defeated by the New York Knicks in five games.
Make no mistake about it -- the Charlotte Hornets did go from 20-win seasons to legit contenders in the Eastern Conference in the 1990's.
And that's largely due to Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning -- who were drafted in 1991 and 1992, as well as Glen Rice when he was acquired from the Miami Heat in 1995. With those two on the roster, the Hornets began buzzing in the Eastern Conference.
Remember "Grandmama"? Of course you do. Who doesn't remember that persona that captivated many during that time? With LJ's slam dunk performance in 1992 and his Converse commercials airing on television's across the country, he quickly became one of the most recognizable players in the league.
The Johnson-Mourning era didn't last too long -- ending in 1995 when Mourning was traded to the Miami Heat that brought in Glen Rice. The tandem made the playoffs twice during their time, the latter being in 1995 after a four game series loss to the Chicago Bulls.
Larry Johnson's time with the Hornets ended the year after in 1996, when he was traded to the New York Knicks that brought in Anthony Mason.
Many Hornets fans, as well as people within the Hornets organization, remember 1996 as the year they drafted Kobe Bryant with the 13th pick, and then traded him to Los Angeles for Vlade Divac.
Of course nobody knew at the time that Kobe Bryant would become a 5-time NBA Champion, scoring leader, multiple time All-Star, future Hall of Famer, Olympic Gold Medalist and possibly the greatest Laker of all-time.
Nobody. Now, back to the Hornets...
The 1997 Hornets finished with 54 wins. Glen Rice was third in the league in scoring, won 1997 All-Star Game MVP honors, as well as being named to the NBA All-Second Team. The Hornets did make the playoffs -- but again -- were eliminated by the New York Knicks in three games.
If I asked you if the Hornets had a starting lineup of David Wesley, Bobby Phills, Glen Rice, Anthony Mason and Vlade Divac in 1997-98, how many games do you think they won? Answer? 51.
The 1998 campaign was a memorable one for the franchise because they made the playoffs in back to back seasons for the first time and even got to the Conference Semi-finals, but just like their nemesis the Knicks did to them in '97, their other playoff nemesis, the Chicago Bulls, eliminated the Hornets (as they did in '95).
As the century turned, the Hornets made the playoffs three out of the next four seasons, making it as far as the Conference Semi-finals in two out of their three appearances (with the 2001 season going their farthest, being eliminated in seven games by the Milwaukee Bucks).
The emerging star from those latter seasons was Baron Davis, who was the team's 3rd overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft. Davis was the catalyst in leading the franchise back to the playoffs in 2001. Davis also started all 82 games in 2001 and 2002 for the team -- and was also selected as a replacement to Vince Carter in the 2002 NBA All-Star Game in Washington, D.C.
The Charlotte Hornets finished last in attendance at the end of the 2002 season, far from what the buzz was like when it first came into the league.
And then we have the Charlotte Bobcats, which most can't wait for this season to end to embark on next season. The Bobcats name didn't fit with many -- and management knows that. They've had a playoff appearance (2010), an All-Star under the Bobcats name (Gerald Wallace in case you forgot) and many miserable seasons. Talent was on their roster with players such as Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor, Raymond Felton, Jason Richardson, Boris Diaw, Tyson Chandler, Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson.
But the buzz wasn't and hasn't been the same for the Charlotte faithful, but next season, all of that changes.
When the 2014-2015 NBA season begins, it'll be thirteen years since we've had a Charlotte Hornets game in Charlotte.
"Bring Back The Buzz" has been the franchise's campaign heading into next season. The purple. The teal. The hornet logo. Hugo. The Hive. Striped uniforms. Bring it all back.
It'll be one of those great nostalgia moments we live through -- but I'm sure all NBA fans are all for this kind of nostalgia.