Once in a while, a team's dumb decision is another's opportunity to reclaim its former glory.
We have long known that new New Orleans Hornets owner Tom Benson has wanted to change the Hornets name since he bought the majority stake, but breaking news out tonight indicates that New Orleans has decided on their new name.
The New Orleans Pelicans.
The name has history, dating back to a minor league baseball team and makes more regional association sense than Hornets did. But shoot, who am I kidding — the point of this story is that the Bobcats are now officially free to investigate reclaiming the wayward Hornets name that left Charlotte when George Shinn did.
NBA rules state that any NBA team with the intention of changing its name, logo or uniform must apply to the league 25 months before the start of the season in which it intends to unveil the change. The final decision rests with the NBA’s 30-member Board of Directors. So it would be a while until Charlotte could reclaim the name, if they wanted to.
Bobcats owner Michael Jordan is certainly open to a return to historical roots.
"It's definitely an interest down the road, but right now it's the New Orleans Hornets," Jordan told the Charlotte Observer. "We would definitely entertain the opportunity. That's as much as we can say right now. We've heard the community ask the question, and we would listen."
It makes sense he would be. Not only because he understands by proxy that it's in the good interests of the community to hearken back to more successful days of high attendance and playoff runs, but he experienced it first-hand. He heard the largest NBA arena at full capacity screaming for their beloved Hornets, even when down 20 or more.
The city's connection with the name is not a simple "this was our first team, awww I miss the name" connection. The Hornets name is deeper than that.
Charlotte in the 80's was a fraction of what it is today, both in population and in influence it had on the country. But the banking industry was rising in the city that already had ties to industries like cotton. It was set to boom and Charlotte was coming into its own. George Shinn felt it was ready for a professional team, despite historical weakness of pro basketball in Southern markets, especially one in the heartland of the UNC-Duke rivalry.
The name was selected for it's historical relation to the city when British commander Cornwallis referred to the area as a hornet's nest during the Revolutionary War. The unique color scheme of teal, purple and blue were a result of the dynamic bright color infatuation of the 80's and 90's, which specifically made teal extremely popular. It only made sense that a rising color would get its first pro sports uniform iteration for a team breaking new ground in a new era in a place like Charlotte that was about to explode economically. And so the Hornets moved into the largest NBA stadium with a 24,000-person capacity.
The city was nuts for the team, selling out 364 consecutive home games and leading the league in attendance for 8 of 11 seasons.
But please don't fall for the fallacy - people were not going to every game for the name or the colors. It was the new thing in town, the first professional sports team. Then they drafted well, both in the lottery draft and the normal drafts. They struck gold with dynamic young players like Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning and Dell Curry. These players became like children of the city. The Hornets became the first team in NBA history to win their first playoff series, upsetting the Boston Celtics in 1993.
Alas, things fell apart in magnificently terrible fashion. A feud between Johnson and Mourning led to trades, Johnson got injured and the Hornets had to retool. The fans stuck with them, but it didn't last as George Shinn alienated fans and the city after publicly asking for a new stadium, even though the Charlotte Coliseum wasn't all that old. The NBA was shifting towards new revenue streams, and the Coliseum didn't have the luxury boxes that would become all the rage in the current NBA. Then he had a sexual harassment lawsuit and threw whatever support he had left from the public in the garbage.
Not even heroics from young impressive point guard Baron Davis and overachieving play under head coach Paul Silas that led them to the playoffs for a few years could save them. Attendance plummeted and Shinn took the team to New Orleans.
But as is the case with everything, nostalgia makes everything new again. Hornets gear and memories and colors are quite popular now. The Bobcats' name has come under fire ever since it was chosen by the organization under then-owner Robert "Bob" Johnson.
A return to the name would be a good move for the Bobcats. In the short term, it would raise attendance and apparel/jersey/etc sales, but not in the long term. Nostalgia fades, and fades quickly if the team stinks. The Bobcats would still have to build for sustainable competitive success if they want to get bring people in to the arena on a nightly basis like they used to. It's possible they can get back in the good graces of the people who swore off George Shinn in the late 90's and early 00's, too, by doing this at least if they bring out a product like they have on the court now. Young, athletic and energetic effort is fun and fun basketball entices people to watch. As the team grows, they will hopefully expand upon this and make for postseason competition.
MJ, you heard them scream in the Coliseum two decades ago. The connection is still here - do you want to hear another generation of those fans connecting that team name with their home and unite Charlotte basketball history?