In 2014, the Charlotte Bobcats renamed their team the Charlotte Hornets, marking one of the most historic name changes in NBA History. That was after a decade of donning the name of the exotic cat breed before switching to the name of the largest among the eusocial wasps. But, what’s actually with the name change, and why was it symbolic and emotional for many basketball enthusiasts? Continue reading below and we’ll buzz you the answer.
History of Professional Basketball in North Carolina
Before the Hornets claimed North Carolina as their hive, there were the Carolina Cougars first, formerly the Houston Mavericks which Jim Gardner moved to the state in 1969. They were part of ABA (American Basketball Association) and the first professional basketball team in Charlotte. It was dubbed as a regional team, sharing it with the Piedmont Triad and the Research Triangle, as none of three large metropolitan areas can support one of its own.
Yet, even the cost of the regional team proved to be hefty for North Carolina and was not feasible for the upcoming ABA-NBA merger. Despite the moderate success and having one of the ABA’s most loyal fanbases, managers were prompted to see the Cougars to New York businessmen in 1974, who relocated the team to St. Louis, Missouri, as the St. Louis Spirit.
In 1985, American businessman and local millionaire George Shinn thought of bringing back professional basketball to North Carolina and began his quest to establish one in Charlotte. In 1987, the NBA granted Charlotte one of the expansion teams, despite many people raising eyebrows about the city’s capability of hosting an NBA franchise.
Initially, the team was supposed to be named the Charlotte Spirit, perhaps to recognize the former Carolina Cougars who moved to St. Louis, but didn’t survive the ABA-NBA merger. Yet, a poll among the residents of the fast-growing city was made, where it was agreed to the carry name “Hornets” among the others choices: Cougars, Stars, Crowns, and Knights.
Background of the Hornets Name
The winning choice, “Hornets,” actually had a historical context. In 1780, British General Cornwallis and his troops started a campaign to win over the southern states’ loyalists. They began in Charleston, South Carolina, and marched north. In the Battle of Charlotte on September 26th, Cornwallis’ army faced heavy resistance from Mecklenburg County, despite being greatly outnumbered.
After sixteen days of humiliation in the Charlotte area, Cornwallis decided to leave but not without dubbing the place as the damned hornet’s nest of rebellion. Since then, the “Hornets” nickname became the insignia of the people’s strong resolve and has been used widely in the city’s history.
Charlotte Hornets in the NBA
The Charlotte Hornets’ first NBA happened on November 4, 1988, losing 133-93 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, at the Charlotte Coliseum. The team’s first-ever win came at the expense of the Los Angeles Clippers, 117-105. Yet, what caught the attention of their fans was when they defeated Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls on December 23, 1988, 103-101. The team ended their inaugural season with a 20-62 W-L record. Charlotte Hornets gained more interest from basketball enthusiasts after it decided to have “teal” as its main color, starting a fashion fad from the late 1980s and the early 1990s
The succeeding years were sort of an era of improvement for the Charlotte Hornets, having 19–63, 26–56, and 31–51 in the following season. Their first winning record came in their fifth season at 44–38. The 1997–98 season became the team’s best outing, after having a 51–31 record.
Yet, the team suffered from George Shinn’s publicized sexual assault trial. Attendance plunged dramatically and Charlotteans soured on Shinn, prompting him to move the team out of the city and relocate it to New Orleans in 2002.
The Birth of the Charlotte Bobcats
Meanwhile, the NBA opened the possibility of getting a replacement team and after several bids, the franchise was awarded to Black Entertainment Television founder Robert L. Johnson in December 2002. The NBA Board of Governors approved the franchise in January 2003 and six months later, the team was officially announced as the Charlotte Bobcats.
Truth to be told, the Charlotte Regional Sports Commission tried to help give the new team a name by conducting another poll, with the choices of Dragons, Flight, and Bobcats. Flight became the popular vote, but Johnson overruled and stuck to Bobcats, which many fans deemed as was his way of naming the team of himself, in reference to his nickname “Bob.”
Apart from being renowned as a team who occasionally played tough against the Los Angeles Lakers, the team really had no genuine identity, having undergone color scheme, coaches, and player changes in the following years. In February 2010, Johnson announced his decision to sell the team to Michael Jordan, allowing the NBA legend to become the first former player to own a franchise.
The Return of the Charlotte Hornets
Jumping to May 21, 2013, Jordan announced that they’ve submitted an application for the name change of the Charlotte Bobcats in the 2014-2015 NBA season. Less than two months later, the NBA approved the return of the team’s name to Charlotte Hornets. On May 20, 2014, the Charlotte Hornets was officially reincarnated, carrying along with the team’s original history and records. The team sported a modified version of the famous teal color scheme, added with purple, white, gray, black, and Carolina blue accents.
While many opposed the idea, more fans from Charlotte welcome the name change. Some even claimed that the move felt like a prodigal son was returning. While the Bobcats had their own sentimental and historic significance, the Hornet’s was simply a name that boasts an immense amount of pride for the city, having been a part of its roots for over two centuries. The return of the Charlotte united both old and new Hornets, recreating the buzz and giving the team its fresh shot of optimism and popularity.