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Relocated NBA Teams: The Charlotte Hornets

The Charlotte Hornets were a basketball team that played in the NBA from 1988 to 2002. Although the team relocated to New Orleans in 2002 to become the present day New Orleans Pelicans, its legacy and history is held by the Charlotte Hornets of today by default. The idea for a franchise in the Charlotte area was mooted in 1985 by George Shinn, a local entrepreneur who sought to exploit the league’s appetite for expansion and the Charlotte regions status as a college basketball powerhouse. Despite initial doubts about Charlotte’s suitability for an NBA team, the city was awarded a franchise in 1988 alongside Miami, Orlando and Minneapolis. The team was originally going to be called Charlotte Spirit but the name Hornets was picked following strong objection by fans. During the American Revolutionary War, a British general famously referred to North Carolina as a “nest of hornets”, and this provided inspiration for the team’s moniker. The Hornets played their home games at newly built 24,000 seat Charlotte Coliseum, the largest basketball-specific arena to date. The team’s home strip had teal as its primary color, a bold move which inspired pro and amateur teams’ uniforms in subsequent years. The team’s pinstripe designs would also appear in later years in the strips of the Toronto Raptors, the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic. Carl Scheer was hired the team’s first general manager, charged with the responsibility of assembling a team to begin play in the 1988/89 season.

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The Hornets’ original roster was packed with veterans, contrary to new entrants’ traditional habit of drafting rookies, in hopes of setting up an experienced and competitive team right away. They found success hard to come by, missing the playoffs on many occasions and rarely foraying past the first round. They initially found the going tough, having to wait until the 1992/93 season for their first playoff appearance. They finished in last place during their first two seasons with a 20-62 and a woeful 19-63 record respectively. With Alonzo Mourning joining second year forward Larry Johnson in the front court in 1992, the Hornets were in the best form of their competitive life as they raced to a third place finish that season. In the 1993 playoffs, they defeated the Boston Celtics in three games but they fell to the New York Knicks in the second round. They made further playoff appearances in 1995 and 1997 but they only made it past the first round again in 1998. There, they found the deadly Chicago Bulls with the mighty Michael Jordan waiting to send them back to reality. The Hornets would not get much better than that as they made three more playoffs in 2000, 2001 and 2002 without advancing past the second round.

Why were the Charlotte Hornets Relocated?

The Hornets were an immensely popular team during their early years in Charlotte, with the 25,000 seat Charlotte Stadium regularly selling out. However during the latter years, a combination of stagnated team performance and questionable personnel recruitment by George Shinn increasingly disillusioned the fans. The last nail in the Hornets’ coffin would come as a result of Shinn’s refusal to grant Michael Jordan, a North Carolina native control over all basketball matters, effectively ending negotiations that would have seen Jordan enlisted as a minority owner of the team. Amid rape accusations and the aforementioned factors, Shinn found himself ostracized by fans and the media. Attendance dropped steadily over the years and by the 2001/2002 season, the Hornets were ranked last in the league in fan turnout. Following the conclusion of the 2001/2002 season, the team moved to New Orleans, where they became the “New Orleans Hornets.” However Charlotte would not stay long without NBA action as the city was granted a new franchise in 2004 which would be owned by BET founder Robert L. Jackson, making him the first black owner of a major league sports team. The new team was called the Charlotte Bobcats. In another case of firsts, Michael Jordan would purchase the team from Johnson in 2010 to become the first former NBA player to hold a majority stake in a team. The team would become the second reincarnation of the Charlotte Hornets starting 2014/15 after the New Orleans franchise dropped the rights to the “Hornets” moniker.

Charlotte Hornets Notable Players

Alonzo Mourning C 1992-1995
Robert Parrish C 1994-1996
Kelly Tripucka G 1988-1991
Dell Curry SF/SG 1988-1998
Muggsy Bouges PG 1988-1997
Scott Burrell SG/SF 1993-1997, 2000/01
Kendall Gill SG/SF 1990-1993, 1995/1996
J.R. Reid PF 1989-1992, 1997/1998
Baron Davis PG 1999-2002
Larry Johnson SF/PF 1991-1996
David Wesley G 1997-2002
Elden Campbell C/PF 1998-2002
Anthony Mason F 1996-2000
Glen Rice SF 1996-1999
Matt Geiger C 1995-1998

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