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New Orleans Hornets

A professional basketball team in the Western Conference of the NBA.

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These Hornets Sting

  • Aug 21, 2012
Rating:
-1
With a team like this, I'm tempted to scream about how the New Orleans Hornets are a bastardization of one of the NBA's all-time great teams. New Orleans, after all, did have a team of its own way back in the 70's, which had a much more fitting name: The New Orleans Jazz. Thing is, however, the New Orleans Jazz don't have a lot of history. Yeah, Pete Maravich played for them, but for god's sake, they didn't even outlast the Buffalo Braves (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...lipped_and_Trimmed.html) before they shuttled off to Utah, where they kept their suddenly ill-fitting name and made their permanent home. And even when New Orleans finally got a new team - which, for the record, has already outlasted the Jazz - they had to life one from a less appreciative home.

As an NBA city, the newly-bustling metropolis of Charlotte, North Carolina makes all the sense in the world. After all, North Carolina itself is probably the primary hotbed of college basketball. The rivalry between the Blue Devils of Duke University and the Tar Heels of the University of North Carolina is one of the biggest and most fiercely contested in the country, after all. Every year, it headlines, and it is frequently cited as the very best of any sports rivalry in the country - better than the New York Yankees (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/baseball_team/U...to_Wear_the_Iconic.html)/Boston Red Sox (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/actor/UserRevie...ly_Into_Dead_Sucks.html) rivalry (which is overrated anyway); better than the college football rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State. North Carolina State and Wake Forest are also very good, and they usually add another dimension. So, hell, North Carolina needed a good NBA team in the area to tap the thriving basketball market and up the ante a little bit. In 1988, an entrepreneur named George Shinn finally got that idea.

The Hornets were part of the 1988 expansions, along with the Miami Heat (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...mer_Heat_is_Brutal.html). Some people were critical of this move, with one columnist from the Sacramento Bee joking the only franchise Charlotte could ever get was one with golden arches. While they made jokes, however, Shinn was making arenas. Specifically, he made the Charlotte Coliseum, a 24,000-seat behemoth which was the largest basketball-specific arena in the country at the time. The team was originally going to be called the Charlotte Spirit, but they held a name-the-team contest, and Hornets was propelled into the winners' choice circle. They were also the first pro team to choose teal as a primary color, setting off a fashion craze which other teams later followed suit. They also signed a bunch of veterans instead of going the usual route and trying to build with a young core, hoping to compete immediately.

Ex-Pistons guard Kelly Tripucka led the team through its inaugural season. Rex Chapman was their first-ever draft choice. Muggsy Bogues was another mainstay; he was noteworthy for being the shortest player in NBA history at 5'3". Ultimately, their immediacy strategy didn't work. The Hornets went 20-63, and followed that with a 19-64 record the next season. It took until 1992 for them to find a face in Alonzo Mourning, and he finally led them to the playoffs in the 1993 season, where he also led them to an upset over the Boston Celtics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Big_Green_Men.html). Mourning wasn't around for very long, though; he was traded to Miami in 1994 for Glen Rice, Matt Geiger, and Khalid Reeves. Rice and Geiger proved to be good acquisitions; Rice scored a lot and Geiger rebounded a lot.

In 1996, the Hornets made a very costly mistake: They traded their first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for center Vlade Divac. Divac played in Charlotte for two years. The pick they sent to Los Angeles has been there now for 17 years, playing a very key role on three Championship teams and being the very centerpiece of two others. Would-be Hornet Kobe Bryant is a lock for the Hall of Fame and a retired number as a Laker.

Despite that, the team started to collect itself in the late 90's, going to a pair of 50-win seasons, which are pretty much automatic for the playoffs. They were stopped respectively by the New York Knicks (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...he_New_York_Groove.html) and Chicago Bulls (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...atest_Bullfighters.html) in those years. The strike season had them winning 26 of 50 games, not enough for playoffs, but almost every team was out of shape that year. Baron Davis emerged in the 2000 season, taking the Hornets back to the playoffs, only to lose to the Philadelphia 76ers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...25-A_True_Original.html). But their good on-court performance was overshadowed by things happening off the court. Fan discontent was setting in because Shinn was a cheapskate. Also, North Carolina native Michael Jordan was negotiating to become a part-owner of the team. While the team performed well, got back to the playoffs, and made it to the semi-finals a couple of times, the fans smelled something fishy in the air and responded by not going to the games. When attendance bottomed out, the NBA approved a move for 2003, with a promise that Charlotte would get a new team within a couple of years. As promised, the Bobcats (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...y_Without_Point_or.html) were formed a couple of years later.

In their first-ever home game as the New Orleans Hornets, the team paid its respects to what little history the Jazz had by retiring Pete Maravich's number. Despite making the playoffs, the team then fired coach Paul Silas, apparently thinking that he had done everything he could for them. They also got David West in the draft, who became an All-Star. But the Hornets started slipping, so they began a designed implosion following the 2004 season and posted their worst-ever record - 18-64 - a couple of years later without their stars.

2005. Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst natural disasters in the country's history. A businessman had to make a real push for it, but he managed to convince the NBA brass that Oklahoma City was starting to boom, and they deserved a team. David Stern decided what the hell, there's nothing to lose by giving it a shot, and the Hornets played 36 games in Oklahoma City, just to see if a team could work there. The Hornets were embraced, and the whole time there, they were officially called the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, or NOOCH for short. Not only did the Hornets have a place to play, but Oklahoma City proved itself to the league, and the Seattle Sonics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Thunder_Rolls.html) were later moved there.

The Hornets generally been doing well since Katrina, but Shinn is no longer in a position financially stable enough to keep running the team. The fans recently had to create a fundraising ticket buyout to block an escape clause in the Hornets' lease which would have let them walk away due to low attendance. The product is middling, and the team's future isn't exactly certain right now. The NBA had to buy them out, then they were bought by Tom Benson, who owns the New Orleans Saints (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/product/UserRev...16238-Geaux_Saints.html).

If there's one thing the Hornets have done well over their history, it's trade their biggest and brightest. Alonzo Mourning and Kobe Bryant are the worst. They've also gotten rid of Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler, Larry Johnson, Dell Curry, Glen Rice, Bob Bass and Baron Davis. Letting guys like them go after they've been discovered as role players or stars results in them never having a real player/team association, and that's important because fans want to see players in the long term who they can identify with or who can excite them. It's no coincidence that the Hornets' only retired numbers are Pete Maravich (Jazz era) and Bobby Phills (because he was tragically killed in a car accident). It's also no accident that they've never been beyond the second playoff round.

If they had held on to some of their biggest names, the Hornets could have really contended some years. They have probably the best on-paper roster that kept getting rid of its talent, for whatever that's worth. They have a slew of great moments and games under their belts, but they don't stand up among the great NBA moments.

Still, it's hard to argue about a team that the people of New Orleans sought comfort in during the Katrina days. For being such a nonentity, they've been embraced, and it's because of them that a whole city they didn't play in was able to prove their worth as an NBA city. Perhaps more teams should start barnstorming to get accurate market measurements. That gives them a bit of a reprieve.

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Nicholas Croston ()
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