Baron Davis had just dropped 26 points, dished out 8 assists, grabbed 7 rebounds, and notched 7 steals. The Charlotte Hornets had 6 players in double figures that night and got 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 blocks from key reserve Jamaal Magloire. It was May 9, 2002 and the Hornets cruised to a 115-97 victory over the New Jersey Nets in game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals
. This marked the last time they would get a victory in Charlotte. Sadly, there were just 11,363 (less than half of capacity for the Charlotte Coliseum) fans in attendance to witness it. This was a stark contrast from the glory days when the Hornets sold out 364 consecutive games over a span of 9 seasons from 1988-1997.
The next day, the worst was confirmed when the NBA owners approved the relocation of the Hornets to New Orleans. Once the NBA’s darling upstart with sell-out crowds, skyrocketing jersey sales, and Grandmama, the team was now unceremoniously leaving the place where it gained popularity and success. This was primarily due to a standoff between embattled owner George Shinn and city officials over a failed attempt to get a new arena. The Charlotte Hornets were gone and the city would feel the effects of this for more than 10 years.
Seven months after the Hornets left town, the NBA announced that Charlotte would receive an expansion franchise that would eventually be the Charlotte Bobcats. The city still reeling from losing the beloved Hornets never fully supported the Bobcats. The Bobcats would go on to become the resident worst team in the league and the butt of many jokes because of their consistent futility over the next several years.
Fast forward to May 21, 2013, when current owner Michael Jordan announced that the team will change its name to the Charlotte Hornets
. The name became available earlier this year when New Orleans decided to adopt the Pelicans moniker. Michael Jordan heard the pleas of the Charlotte fans who had been persistently calling for the switch through various channels. On this day, it became reality as the city got a huge part of its identity back. After enduring the Bobcats for 9 seasons, 472 losses, 6 head coaches, the tragic drafting of Adam Morrison with the 3rd overall pick in the 2006 NBA draft
, more bad draft picks, and a number of below average players with All Star level contracts, the people of Charlotte had reason to cheer again. MJ finally got something right. A franchise that has been synonymous with insignificance was given a shimmer of hope.
Will the name change alone put more tallies in the win column? No, absolutely not. However, the enormity of the change cannot be understated. Let me briefly explain. As you all know, fan support is the foundation of any great sports organization. The Charlotte Hornets were among the NBA leaders in fan support and popularity. Ticket and merchandise sales drive revenue for teams and serve as a direct reflection of fan support. Teams use that revenue to acquire better players. Better players will put more tallies in the win column. Thus, illustrating the domino effect and the first domino has fallen.
A week ago, the Bobcats drafted Cody Zeller with 4th
overall pick in this year’s draft. Cody Zeller is a versatile 7 footer who can score inside and out and make free throws. I believe he will be a solid player for a small team that struggles to get easy buckets. A few days after drafting Cody Zeller, the Bobcats landed Al Jefferson
through free agency as he agreed to a 3 year, $41 million deal. Al Jefferson is a career 16 points and 9 rebounds per game player. He is a legitimate low post threat who averaged 23 points and 11 boards during the best season of his career in 2008-2009. The combination of these two players along with the continued development of young players like Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist gives the team something to build upon. It remains to be seen if the Bobcats will keep Gerald Henderson who is a restricted free agent and their most versatile perimeter player.
The summer of 2014 will be epic. The 2014 NBA draft is widely regarded as the best draft since the 2003 draft that produced Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Carmelo Anthony. Ironically, those same 3 players could opt for free agency to create the most hyped summer in NBA history. Top draft prospects Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker are said to be potential superstar NBA players. Beyond those two, there are about 10 other prospects that could be perennial all stars. The free agent class could include players like Kobe Bryant, Rudy Gay, Danny Granger, Luol Deng, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Chris Bosh along with the aforementioned James, Wade, and Anthony.
In this same summer, the Bobcats name and hopefully all that encompassed it will expire. The Charlotte Hornets could very well be armed with 3 lottery picks ashigh as numbers 1, 9, and 13
. In addition, they will potentially have as much as $17 million in cap room. The Hornets can make a big splash next summer through the draft and free agency to further improve their roster heading into the 2014-2015 NBA season. The memories of those painful years of watching the Bobcats struggling to score will fade. The fans of Charlotte deserve what’s coming. The worst is over. Twelve years has passed since Charlotte won a playoff series and I suspect this drought ends much sooner than later. The Buzz is back to where it all started. A lot has to happen between now and then, but do not be surprised if the Charlotte Hornets become serious contenders for years to come.