Charlotte Hornets: What’s in a Name?

The Charlotte Hornets have been in the Queen City since 1988 and even with a strange history, the love for the team is starting to grow.

The Beginning of Professional Basketball in North Carolina

Before the Charlotte Hornets took the nation by storm with their flashy color scheme, there was the Carolina Cougars. The Carolina Cougars of the ABA (American Basketball Association) were the first professional basketball team in Charlotte. Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina Jim Gardner brought them to North Carolina in 1969. They existed as a regional team between Charlotte, the Piedmont Triad and the Research Triangle.

Notable Highlights:

  1. Larry Brown (yes the same one that Coached the Bobcats from 2008-2010) was one of coaches of this franchise.
  2. Greensboro had one of the most loyal fanbases in all of the ABA. This was possibly a factor in picking the Swarm location.

Ironically, the regional concept that brought professional basketball to the Carolinas proved to be too expensive. Managers realized it was not viable as the ABA-NBA merger was on the horizon. Ultimately, the Cougars were sold to New York businessmen and relocated to St. Louis as the St. Louis Spirit in 1974.

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George Shinn and the Basketball Dream (1988-2002)

This was the Golden Age of Charlotte basketball because many great players and highly publicized people associated themselves with the Hornets at this time. Fans enjoyed watching Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, Baron Davis…and many more during this time period. This era also produced Mourning’s iconic buzzer beater over the Celtics in the 1993 playoffs.

Fourteen years went by before George Shinn decided to bring professional basketball back to the Carolinas. Shinn was a local millionaire from Kannapolis that built his fortune in owning vocational schools. In 1985 he started his quest to bring professional basketball back to Charlotte.

Charlotte was one of the fastest growing cities at the time, but some people were still skeptical of its ability to host an NBA franchise. Shinn and the city of Charlotte proved them wrong. The NBA awarded Charlotte one of the expansion teams in 1987.

Originally the team was to be called the Charlotte Spirit. This was most likely a nod to the previous ABA team that moved to St. Louis. However, the name would be changed due to a poll completed by Charlotteans. The City of Charlotte agreed on “Hornets” as a name for the team among Knights, Cougars, Spirit, Crowns, and Stars.

Origin of the Hornets

Many people rallied behind the name because of its historical context.

“a veritable hornet’s nest of rebellion” -Lord Cornwallis

In 1780, British commander, Lord Cornwallis was leading his troops in what was known as the Southern Theatre. It was a British attempt to win over loyalist in the southern states. His campaign began in Charleston, SC and headed north.

That is when he encountered heavy resistance from the people of Mecklenburg. During the war, British Commander Lord Cornwallis referred to Mecklenburg as “a veritable hornet’s nest of rebellion.” Since then, the “Hornets” moniker has appeared throughout Charlotte history. From 1901 to 1972 there was a minor league baseball team by the same name. Also, UNCC and Davidson play annually for the Hornets Nest trophy each basketball season.

All Good Things Must End

The Golden Age of Charlotte basketball came to a messy end. This was brought upon by George Shinn’s highly publicized sexually assault trial. Consequently, the city of Charlotte soured on him which drove him to relocate the team to New Orleans in 2002 (There is a lot more involved but I’ll save the details for a later article).

Bob Johnson’s Bobcats and the Bronze Age

Only two years passed between the relocation of the Original Hornets and the arrival of the Charlotte Bobcats. BET founder Bob Johnson is responsible for bringing professional basketball back to Charlotte. Unfortunately, many fans would agree he brought his ego along with basketball.

Another poll was sent out, this time with the options of Bobcats, Dragons, and Flight. The popular vote was for Flight, but Bob Johnson overruled the fan vote and allegedly decided to name the team after himself. Many people believe this is why the team was called the BOBcats.

An argument can be made that he was trying to continue the cat-like theme created by the Panthers, but there is no substantial evidence for this claim. Many original Hornets fans turned their backs on the Bobcats. It became evident how spoiled we were with the original Hornets during this Bronze Age of basketball.

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Gone were the days of Grandmama and Zo. Primoz Brezec and Byron Mullens replaced them The Bobcats became a team with no real identity. The franchise was known as a revolving door between coaches, players, and color schemes.

In fact, Gerald Wallace was the only memorable player from this era. He became the rallying point for the few Hornets faithfuls that continued watching season after season. In 2010, he received league wide recognition and was named an all-star, as well as an NBA All-Defensive First Team member.

As you can see, he did not have a spectacular game however, Bobcats fans were happy to finally have some national attention. The publicity was short-lived because they shipped Wallace to Portland halfway through the 2011 season.

Bring Back the Buzz and the Return of the Hornets

We are currently in the Silver Age of Charlotte Basketball. Unfortunately, we have no All-Stars in this era yet, but various players are beginning to get national attention. It started with the signing of Al Jefferson and continued with internal growth from Kemba Walker, and the trade for Nic Batum.

Evan and Scotty Kent started the Bring back the Buzz movement. It was originally a grassroots effort that picked up steam over social media. However, in May 2014 Adam Silver announced that the Hornets name would be returning to Charlotte along with the original history. None of this would be possible without the New Orleans franchise changing their name to the Pelicans.

The name change united old and new Hornets fans. Some of the older fanbase started wearing retro hornets gear to the games, and on the sideline high-profile people such as Nelly, and Cam Newton could be seen showing off Hornets gear as well. The Charlotte Hornets noticed an instant change in popularity. The ticket sales rose from 25th to 17th as fans both old and new began flocking to the arena.

For more information, check out:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_Hornets#1998.E2.80.932002:_Final_years_of_original_personnel
  2. http://www.meckdec.org
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Shinn

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