Ironic, isn’t it? Over the past several seasons, writers at TSP have disagreed often enough – or felt debate in the community often enough – that the site has a section devoted to disagreement. So why doesn’t this most-central debate amongst Charlotte’s NBA fans belong in the “Claw2Claw area? First, there was nobody to be Devil’s Advocate or “pretend” to have an opposing view. Secondly, there wasn’t anyone to take any position – pro OR con. Andrew and I have both been neutral since the argument was first presented several seasons ago. These articles were born, as Andrew mentioned, because of an email exchange he and I had during the Bobcats recent five game losing streak. How did we get from Bobcats to Bee-hive rebirth? Check out the other side of coin – the Yang to Andrew’s previously posted Yin…
The Bobcats, like every other NBA team, have developed a bit of an identity. The Charlotte Hornets had one too. The old Hornets, lest we forget, were the farm team of the NBA. As soon as a player developed value to the league he got sold to the highest bidder. Don’t worry, I’ll give examples. Let’s see… Oh, let’s use Andrew’s list. Remember “Larry Johnson, Del Curry, Muggsy Bogues, or Alonzo Mourning,” from his article? Well, Larry Johnson left tearfully for the Knicks. ‘Zo is remembered for his stellar career in Florida until his unfortunate kidney ailment. The Hornets used Muggsy until his knees were shot and then tossed him like so much trash to the first team that would take him. Only Del Curry is remembered as a career Hornet, but he wasn’t really, was he? He got traded and finished up his career in Canada with the Raptors. He remembered as a Hornet for two reasons – he won the NBA Sixth Man Award and North Carolinians are forever ready to embrace those that embrace them. Like Andrew, I was a Hornets fan. I still have Hornets gear just like the folks you see walking around Time Warner behind Dell and Steph at the start of the Pre Game Show. I knew some Hornets back in the day, just like I know some of the Bobcats today. One of the “old guard” Hornets told me the running joke told to rookies joining the team each season:
“Don’t get too cozy. If you wanna know your fate in this town, go meet the mascot.”
The puzzled rook was left to figure it out while the vets chuckled. The punch line was hidden in the mascot’s name – Hugo. “You go” – get it? You’re gonna get traded.
Eventually, amidst allegations of sexual harassment and questionable sexual conduct, the owner slunk out of town in the middle of the night and took his team with him after whining about how obsolete his “state of the art” Hive had become after just a few short seasons. You see, the much-vaunted and fondly-remembered attendance figures were in the early years. The team was losing money hand over fist at the end and Georgie wanted to rip out a massive number of seats and replace them with expensive “luxury box” areas to bump revenues. Either that or he wanted the citizens of Charlotte to cough up the coin for a new arena. Bob Johnson wasn’t just sitting around one day and thinking, “I need somewhere to dump several hundred million bucks… let’s see… I do kinda like basketball. The NBA had quietly made it clear to North Carolina that if we waited a few years for the dust to settle the league (partly because of those early attendance numbers) would look favorably on bringing in another team.
Remember now? Is that the “identity” we want to bring back? Ahh, nostalgia – the one shade that makes the ugliest of memories look rose-colored.
So what’s the Bobcats identity you ask? HEY! Wake up! I’m still talking to you! I’m not as concise as my partner, and I do apologize. I’m the head of the Department of Redundancy Department.
The Cats have been known from the very first season as the team you can’t turn your back on. That’s their NBA rep. They’re the Lakers Killers. Any team that took a game against the Cats for granted was in trouble because these little wildcats had teeth. They were known for beating the giants of the NBA (unless they were Dallas Mavericks Giants that is) and inexplicably losing to teams they should have demolished.
People complain about the Bobcats name because it was a play on the original owner’s name. They were “Bob’s Cats” after Bob Johnson. And? So? The Lakers were named because it meant something to the fans in Minnesota, where the franchise was originally born. Don’t even get me started on the Utah Jazz! Anyone watch baseball? Ever hear of the “A’s?” You do know that originally stood for “Athletics,” right? That they were named for the Athletic Clubs of Philadelphia where they originated, right? That they moved to Kansas City for years before bouncing around and into Oakland? How many Lakers fans sport team colors walking into the Staples center and think, “Good ole’ Minnesota. How I miss those ice fishin’ days?” How many Oakland lovers celebrate a team victory with a cheese steak? Two words – “Puh-lease.” The truth is that a team name is whatever you make of it and I have come to identify Rufus the Bobcat with my NBA team every much as I once embraced Hugo.
The email conversation between Andrew and I was about the fact that the Cats were (at the time) showing minimal effort and getting blown out with ease. We were at risk of losing what identity the team has. Our “name” players are gone. My wife to this day still mourns the loss of DJ and Crash. Our current roster is a bit faceless. Bismack, although remarkably eloquent in English, still seems uncomfortable in interviews. That isn’t his fault. MKG hasn’t lived up to the “Bird Standard” of rookies. (The Bird Standard – when asked about Larry Bird’s rookie season, owner Red Auerbach said, “Bird was a rookie for about 20 minutes.”) Michael Kidd Gilchrist is human and makes human errors like most rookies. Across the league everyone is impressed with just how quickly he’s coming along, but that doesn’t look good on a marketing billboard, does it? “Come see MKG. He doesn’t suck nearly as bad as everyone thought!” It lacks a certain something, don’t you think?
Ultimately what it comes down to is what Charlotte fans want from their team. Like most sports towns, Charlotte wants a winner. Charlotte wants a winner now. The fans understand on an intellectual level that this is a rebuild season. But that doesn’t help the heart much during a losing streak. Bob Johnson may know cable television inside and out but it turned out he didn’t know (insert the brown word) about pro hoops. I know this for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that we’re still carrying old and ugly paper from his tenure. *cough* DIOP*cough*
As one commenter to Andrew’s column already stated, and Andrew openly admits, children coming to the Time Warner Cable Arena only know the Bobcats. They wouldn’t know Hugo from a Yugoslavian car or a hurricane. It has been conservatively estimated that changing the “brand” back to the Hornets will cost Michael Jordan a minimal 8-10 million dollars. It will also render the several hundred dollars worth of Bobcats gear sitting in my closet obsolete. It will KILL the Cats Crazies Booster Club. It will also force at least a couple of the team’s blogsites to close down and reopen with different names and color schemes. But that last bit is a minor thing.
It won’t bring back ‘Zo and Muggs. It won’t bring back the glory days, or even necessarily the teal gear. All it will do is satisfy a vocal group of older fans that didn’t get long enough to grieve for the corpse of the Hive before a new team rode into town.
Believe me, I understand. I was there too. I miss those “glory days” as much as The Boss did when he wrote that song. But I also remember what Billy Joel said in, “Keepin’ the Faith”:
“The good old days weren’t always good; tomorrow’s not as bad as it seems.”
The Cats are on the way to greatness. Michael Jordan and Rich Cho are making certain of it. It doesn’t matter whether they fly into the upper levels of the NBA as Hornets or claw their way to the top as Bobcats, it will happen. Despite MJ’s repeatedly stated reluctance to change the name he is giving deep consideration to the change. If you go to the Bobcats entry on Wikipedia it says right in the opening paragraph that, “the team will reportedly change its name to the Charlotte Hornets for the 2013-2014 season.” They’ll not win nor lose one game with that name change. Will I still be a fan? Well, for that answer I have to dig back a bit further than pop music references:
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Bill Shakespeare knew his stuff. That’s also why I’m still on the fence. To me the important issues are centered around what can be done to improve the team we put on the court each game night. That has nothing whatsoever to do with a name on a jersey. They could be the Charlotte Air Biscuits and I won’t care. They’ll still be MY Charlotte Air Biscuits. REPRESENT!