As soon as I caught word that Charlotte had started the process of taking the Hornets name back, I sent an email to all of the writers here at Trade Street Post. I had mixed commentary in return. Those emails inspired me to write this little article, just to give a spotlight into my path as a fan of the NBA in Charlotte. Hope you enjoy it. Bear with me on it because it is a bit lengthy.
So the Charlotte Bobcats are going to Bring Back the Buzz. Secretly, I’m tickled pink…or teal and purple…If you dig through our archives here, you’ll see that there was a time that I was not very fond of the notion of bringing the Hornets name back to Charlotte. I’m big enough to admit it. The Hornets were gone to New Orleans, and all of the scandal that was George Shinn, a new arena, etc. went away with it. It took a few years to reprogram myself to say Charlotte Bobcats, but I was able to do it even when the news media and other teams could not. Truth of the matter, however, is that I always wanted to be the Hornets.
I'll admit how dumb I was when we first got an NBA team back. My first thought was that New Orleans would immediately have a new name and the Hornets name would just be ours again. That scenario could not, would not, and did not happen. I had completely checked out of the notion of the NBA because my state didn't have a team anymore. When the Hornets left, whether Shinn was a jerk, pervert, or whatever; it hurt badly. That was the team that I celebrated and supported. I took so many pictures at the games I attended that I should have had Pentax and Kodak as official sponsors. Ah the memories…more of the good than the bad that I buried in my mind.
Fast forward to 2003 and I have a child...2004 and I have a team near me playing a sport I loved to go see play with my mom. It was our thing. I saw it as a chance to start a tradition with my son. Once I understood that the name would be Bobcats, I figured it was just something that I would get used to. Having a newborn, I didn't really get to really focus on the team once we got it. I wasn't dialed into who Bob Johnson was or the notion that the team could have been named the Bobcats to be a play on his name. In my mind, Charlotte went with a ferocious feline to align with the existing Panthers for the NFL team they already had. I had no idea that Johnson was as much of a jerk as Shinn was either. I was just happy to have the NBA back in Charlotte.
Connor got older and I got to start paying attention. My first attended game was against the Houston Rockets. I won tickets off of www.nba.com via some contest that Sprite was running. The arena blew me away from what I had in my mind as to how the old "Hive" was. The game and our seats, however, did not. We were stuck upstairs, halfway up in about row M. For winning seats to a game I was shocked. To make matters worse, concessions were WAY higher than they were when mom and I used to go (she was my guest to attend this first game). As for the fans, we were used to packed houses and noise, noise, NOISE. From the upper deck, you could hear a pin drop. These upper deck seats weren't as bad as the ones in the older arena, but it was like no one was cheering. That night, Houston put the worst beat down on the team they had ever had at that time. It was a 30+ point blowout. Yao Ming and T- Mac went off on them. I wise cracked from my seats about how bad the tickets I won were and questioned why they wouldn't slide everyone closer to the court so the players would know that there was someone out there pulling for them. I also cracked on why you would “win” seats that were in the upper deck.
I took 2 negative things away from this first experience. The first thing was the notion that I would never be able to afford to take my son to a game. I never imagined how expensive seats and parking and concessions used to be and how fast you can drop over $100 just to attend a game. The second thing was that there was no noise and that there were no fans that stood out. There was no one dancing in the aisles and no one cutting cartwheels or back-flips across the court. The first of these I would figure out in my own way, but the second...where were the fans? I mean, how could a city that had a team with droves of fans have another team and no one there? I combed the internet to look for other Bobcats fans. They weren’t there. That would be about the time I stumbled in my fandom. I couldn't find anything. The team wasn't worth a crap either. A whole bunch of guys I've not heard of and an NBA that I don't know or care who the stars are. I continued to raise my son and casually watch.
October of 2007 brought on son #2 and sleepless nights. Those nights of waiting for sleep to fall upon Duncan also gave me time to surf the net. Lo and behold I found www.rufusonfire.com. A site dedicated to the Charlotte Bobcats & for Bobcats fans. Now by 2007, in my eyes, the team had become somewhat better, but additions like Felton and May had me mad. There were Felton supported and others that hated him as much or more than I did. I took some hits for some of my criticism and got praise for others. Bottom line was that I was among friends. I eventual developed a sarcastic but positive view of the team. Ourdaywillcome joined the site and we began what was a fantastic entertainment discussion during the Bobcats "less than stellar" gameplay. We rivaled Mystery Science Theater 3000, but on a sports level. Rufus on Fire started seeing in game thread comment going from 100 posts to 700+ and needing to have an overflow link posted. Those were the days...but basketball still wasn't what it used to be. I wanted my sons to be able to experience the magnificence that was "The Hive".
Mom and I returned for another game. I still was left with more quiet fans and the old feeling still was not there. With research, I had found the "We Beelieve" group, and I started to see their desire for a name we couldn't have. I wrote them off as crazy fans wanting to bring back something that we couldn't have. New Orleans was the Hornets now and that was that…or was it? George Shinn was trying to sell the team.
Mom and I decided to attend another game. I mean with all these fans online, maybe things had changed. Nope. There were more butts in the seats, but it seemed to be more of a status thing to be at the game and it was definitely not to cheer on the team. At that point I decided something needed to be done to make the fans cheer. Too bad I didn't know what that might be.
Ourdaywillcome and I continued our romp on Rufus on Fire. Some nights the comments would go over 1000 posts. When we weren’t there, the numbers dropped dramatically. Eventually, someone took notice and we were asked to help with a new Bobcats blog site. It was a dream come true for me. Finally a chance to help put out the passion I had developed for my underdog team. Ourdaywillcome, Aka Bruce and I were to help James Dator, currently with www.catscratchreader.com, to get a site off the ground supporting the Bobcats. Bruce and I represented the common sense and fan passion that James was looking for. We picked a name that would be usable, just in case a name change would ever happen. Trade Street Post was born. Not 2 months went by before James was offered his current deal at Cat Scratch Reader. Problem was that it was under a company different from our host. He had to cut ties and the site became the responsibility of Bruce and me.
At this point, I became "all in". I've attended pre-draft workouts, media day, been part of the SuperFans, and participated with the Cat Crazies. I've loved every minute of it. One thing has held constant through this time though. The fans have never "fully immersed" as the Hornets fans of old did.
Flash forward to now. Years of petitioning & making noise, the Hornets name becomes available. The New Orleans team becomes the Pelicans for the 2013-2014 season, and the name is available for Charlotte to take back. Through smokescreens and mirrors, the Bobcats organization spends the latter half of the season deferring rumors of a name change, and refusing to ever say more than they are looking into it. Around 11:45PM, on 5/17/13, the news drops via www.cbssports.com that Charlotte has begun the process of taking back the Hornets name. Am I excited? Somewhat. Should I define somewhat? I’m concerned about who we will hire at head coach. I’m concerned if spending money on a rebrand will make us not go after free agents this summer and next. Will we amnesty Tyrus? Who will we draft in this weak draft? Where will we draft? Will we trade our draft pick? Will the Cat Crazies return next season or will we return as the smaller SuperFans group? Will the Alexander Julian teal and purple return or will we stick with the current Dark/Light blues with orange trim remain? I guess this will all remain to be seen. The team has to become better for the folks that are "all about basketball" to be happy. Wins bring fans. Stars bring fans. According to all forms of social media, there is a huge following that state they will support the Hornets in Charlotte. I went to the Hornets games at the Hive. I've been to games at the Cable Box. These games have shown me the polar opposites of what supporting a team is all about.
I’m wrapping this up. I know when I see 2000 words, I may be losing folks, so I know I have to wrap it off before the house band plays me off the stage.
First off, all those folks that signed the petition to "Bring Back the Buzz" better be coming out in volumes to support the return of the Hornets to Charlotte. I think I saw the petition signatures pushing over 11,000. Hope to see you guys filing into the arena for as many games as you can attend. It would really be nice to see you guys this year also. I know some said they would never attend until they were Hornets, but if they are saying they will do it, you guys have to start showing support now.
I hope to start seeing Hornets gear in places besides the team store. Bobcats gear never ventured into a Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart prices are my price range for my ever-growing boys. Panthers gear is there, but no Bobcats stuff. Hornets stuff was there back in the day as well.
Next, this draft year sucks in terms of getting a star. Michael Jordan better be planning on cutting off the purse strings and snagging a team need or two. If we don't pursue a free agent "star" this summer, it confirms that we are still being run as a budget team. Tyrus Thomas should be amnestied, and cap room created to snag a player that can handle being the vet presence, team leader, and have some star power. This year's free agent market doesn't contain a lot in terms of what we need, player wise. Still, we need to get someone. I don't mean to spend just to spend, but you go after someone like Al Jefferson or Paul Milsap. Maybe you gamble on an Andrew Bynum or a Greg Oden. Offer Bynum or Oden a 1 year deal with a 2nd year team option to extend for more money and years. Hopefully the organization is smart enough to keep Gerald Henderson as a member of the team. Fans like familiarity and they like Henderson. He has improved every season. If I had to make a wager, the NBA knows how the Bobcats do business, and though there appeared to be no one wanting to trade for him, I’d bet they are all waiting on us to do something stupid, and then just pick him up after we don’t keep him (see every player we’ve ever drafted for that track record). We have to draft best player available. Nerlens Noel is amazing, but is also a project. McLemore is also great, but he and Henderson are almost redundant. If he gets drafted, we better be trading Ben Gordon somewhere.
Take a look at our squad that is guaranteed to return:
Michael "Gillie the Kidd" Kidd-Gilchrist
The rest are question marks:
Gerald Henderson that's due a QO
Byron Mullens that's due a QO
Ben Gordon with a player option
Josh McRoberts that is a UFA
Jeff Adrien that is an UFA
DeSagana Diop that is an UFA
Jannero Pargo that is an UFA
Reggie Williams is an UFA
Reality is that we should be coming into the 13-14 season with 6 players for sure. Henderson should be re-signed, Tyrus should be amnestied, and Ben Gordon will accept his player option pushing the roster to 8. We should not offer a QO to Mullens, and we should make a contract offer to McRoberts. It shouldn’t be anything extravagant, but something that is reasonable for him. That would put us up to 9, should he accept. Our draft pick puts us at 10, and we have to spend wisely to grab up to 5 players to fill our roster. Following my layout would mean we will be losing 2 centers, 2 power forwards, a SF/SG, and a PG. From this statement, fill in the blanks with who to chase in free agency. I'll actually have another article forthcoming in regards to what's out there and what we have to spend. First things first though. The Draft lottery is Tuesday. Keep in mind that Dunlap was hired on June 19th last year. That was a week before the draft. If we’re doing things the right way, our next head coach should be hired at least 3 weeks before the draft so that he can analyze the team and the players we have. Then he can help to determine what guys we should focus on in this draft. I hope we hire a former head coach, but if we don’t, well, we’ll see. I really expect a coach to be hired soon and with the hiring and the pick determined, business is about to pick up down on Trade Street.