The Hornets returned to Charlotte…but what exactly did we bring back?
On October 29, a tidal wave of nostalgia hit the Queen City. The Charlotte Hornets were officially back, teal, purple and white (no pinstripes, though? Sigh.), Hugo and the (new) Hive. It was a great night, capped off by the biggest comeback in team history.
Unfortunately, that game would be one of the few highlights for what was arguably the most disappointing team in the NBA this past season. A team that many picked to be a major contender took a giant step backward, going from 43 wins to just 33. And when it mattered most down the stretch, the Hornets only won five of their last 20 games, missing out on the playoffs for the ninth time in the revived franchise’s 11-year history.
To put it another way, Bring Back the Buzz quickly turned into a Buzzkill.
Which begs the question, what exactly did we bring back? A season of mediocrity? High hopes dashed?
Sorry, NBA fans in Charlotte have already seen plenty of that over the last several years.
To be fair, there’s no denying changing the colors and name made some difference this year – the team’s home attendance climbed to 19th (averaging 17,192 fans) in the NBA, up from 25(15,518) in 2013-14.
However, it’s hard to envision anything close to a similar jump next year. Teal and white and a new bee mascot are great, but at some point you have to put a competitive team on the floor, and do so in a continuous manner. The fans are giving their money (is now a good place to mention that despite the disappointing season, the Hornets are raising ticket prices again next season?) – it’s high time to give them something to cheer about on a yearly basis, not once every five seasons.
If the Hornets continue their mediocre pattern, I fear we’ll quickly be back in apathetic Bobcats territory. I went to two games in the final two months and saw a familiar sight – lots of empty seats, entire rows even. Great if you’re a tall guy like me (stretching out ftw!) but not what you want to see as a team executive. As for the people who were there, a good portion of those around me weren’t even into the game – it was more of a social gathering. And I don’t even know if the Hornets are the second coolest (first is a given, the Panthers) team in town anymore. Right now, if you had your choice, would you rather go to a Hornets game or Knights game? Think about it; you may surprise yourself with the answer.
As someone who’s been here since the team’s inception, the Charlotte Hornets will always be special to me. Before Banktown, there was Hive Drive. Fans set NBA attendance records for the team’s first seven seasons – (there were attendance banners hung – seriously). People were excited to sit in massive traffic jams on Tyvola Road to get to the old Charlotte Coliseum, and just as thrilled to sit in the same traffic after the game, on their way to Harper’s, where they’d usually be dining right beside the players. And they were our players – Muggsy, LJ and ’Zo. DC for 3! Kelly. Rex. Baron. Dr. K. The Hammer.
But it all went away in a flash in 2002. And try as you might, you can never fully bring back the past.
The now-Hornets have faced an uphill battle as a franchise since arriving in 2004. Remember, Charlotteans voted loudly against a new arena (and team, essentially) – 57 percent to 43 percent – then watched as the city council turned a deaf ear and built one anyway. There’s also the unfortunate NBA record of worst season ever by a team (.109 winning percentage) and numerous draft failures from the likes of Adam Morrison, Sean May and others.
Given all that, I understand the idea of putting the Bobcats to bed. Don’t get me wrong – I want to see this reincarnated franchise succeed, but they could have been renamed the Charlotte Cookies for all I care. You can only survive on a rebranding for so long, and that time is going to run out quicker than the front office staff thinks. It gets old cheering for a losing team on a yearly basis (I know this twofold also as a Cubs fan). Some have no problem remaining loyal no matter what – but that has rarely been the case for the majority of Charlotte pro sports fans.
So, the ball’s in your court, Hornets. The name, colors and mascot have returned.
The only thing left to bring back is what matters most to fans – a team they can root for on a consistent basis.
Photo via Jennifer Malone
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