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The Charlotte Hornets were a professional basketball team that played in the NBA from 1982 and 2002. The Charlotte Hornets who play in the NBA today hold the original franchise’s records and history, but the New Orleans Pelicans are perhaps more directly linked to the original Hornets. The team’s home games were played at the Charlotte Coliseum.
How did the Hornets Start up?
The Hornets were started as an expansion franchise in 1988 by a group of businessmen headed by George Shinn. Charlotte, a fast growing city and a hotbed for college basketball promised to be a great destination for the NBA. The name “Charlotte Spirit” had initially been picked for the team but a fans contest produced “Hornets.” The nickname “Hornets” celebrated the city’s resistance to occupation by the British during the Revolutionary War. British Commander Lord Cornwallis had referred to the city as a “hornet’s nest of rebellion.” Carl Sheer was named general manager and assembled an arsenal of veteran players, ready for their first season in competition.
The Charlotte Hornets in Competition
The Hornet’s first game was a 133-93 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on November 4, 1988. This was followed by a 117-105 victory over the LA Clippers four days later. They eventually finished the season with a 20-62 record. Their second season, dominated by a mutiny against Coach Dick Harter’s defensive strategy would see them finish with a dismal 19-63 record.
Their play continued to be poor and they had to wait until the 1992-1993 season for their first winning season (44-38) and playoff spot. Amid regular personnel changes, the Hornets recorded mixed results in the following seasons. They had to wait until 1998 to make it past the first round of the playoffs for the first time. Further progress was however cut short by the mighty Chicago Bulls led by Michael Jordan. They made the playoffs a further three times but were again unable to advance past the conference semifinals. The 2001-2002 seasons proved to be the last season of the original Hornets franchise in Charlotte as they relocated to New Orleans soon after the close of the season.
Charlotte Hornets most Notable Moments
On January 12, 2000, the Hornets experienced a tragic off-court incident. Reserve shooting guard and fan favorite Bobby Phills who had been acquired from the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1997 had a fatal car accident when driving behind teammate David Wesley. The two were determined by police to have been racing when Bobby lost control of his Porsche and ran into oncoming traffic, colliding with another car. He died instantly. His #13 jersey has since been retired by the Hornets.
Charlotte Hornets’ Most Notable Players
Tyrone Bogues played 10 years for the hornets between 1988 and 1998. He was officially the shortest player ever to play in the NBA. Despite this limitation, he averaged 10.6 points and 9.2 assists per game, compensating for his lack of height with his agility and quick dribbling.
Alonzo Mourning was drafted second overall in 1992 and was an immediate hit, averaging 21.0 points and 10.3 rebounds per game in his rookie year. His most memorable contribution was a 20 foot shot at the buzzer in game four of the 1993 playoff first round against the Boston Celtics. The Hornets won the game 104-103.
Power forward Larry Johnson was drafted in 1991 and won Rookie of the Year in his first season. His best year with the Hornets was 1992/93; he averaged 21 points and 10.5 rebounds per game to help the team to their first ever winning season.
What Happened to the Charlotte Hornets?
For the first seven years in Charlotte, the Hornets were immensely popular and they topped the league in attendance in all of those seasons. The 24,000 seat Charlotte Coliseum, the largest permanent home for an NBA team ever, sold out for a consecutive 364 games over a stretch of nearly nine seasons. A combination of stagnated performance and unpopular decision making by George Shinn over personnel recruitment and trading saw the team decline steadily in popularity. One of the most unpopular decisions was Shinn’s refusal to give Michael Jordan, a native of North Carolina part ownership of the team.
During the last three seasons, attendance dropped to eleventh, twenty first and last in the league respectively, a sharp contrast to their earlier seasons in Charlotte. In 2002, the team relocated to New Orleans but retained the “Hornets” moniker. By 2004, however Charlotte had a new expansion franchise known as the Charlotte Bobcats that would later be later acquired by Michael Jordan. In 2013, the New Orleans Hornets relinquished the rights to the Hornets nickname as they had been renamed “Pelicans” the previous year. The Bobcats adopted the name Hornets and inherited the earlier franchise’s history and honors to become the second reincarnation of the Charlotte Hornets.