Fowler: Time has come to bring back buzz to Charlotte

sfowler@charlotteobserver.comDecember 6, 2012 

— Now that the New Orleans Hornets are apparently about to become the New Orleans Pelicans, it’s time to solve the Charlotte Bobcats’ own name issues.

In this case, the simplest solution is the best one: The Bobcats need to rebrand themselves as the Charlotte Hornets, embracing a nickname that has Revolutionary War roots and some more recent warm memories.

That’s my opinion, not the Bobcats’. They are proceeding carefully. They don’t have an official opinion as of yet on saying “yes” or “no” to the Hornets nickname once it officially becomes available. But they are going to explore the idea.

Michael Jordan told The Observer in a group interview I was part of one month ago that he would consider changing the team’s nickname if and when the New Orleans franchise gave up the “Hornets” nickname.

“It’s definitely an interest down the road, but right now it’s the New Orleans Hornets," Jordan said then. “We would definitely entertain the opportunity. That’s as much as we can say right now. We’ve heard the community ask the question, and we would listen.”

“Down the road” is apparently here, according to a Yahoo Sports report that proclaims New Orleans will rebrand itself as the Pelicans, perhaps as early as the 2013-14 NBA season. The team has planned to change its nickname ever since New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson bought it this year.

So the Bobcats are about to have a big decision to make – one that’s more complicated than you might think. It costs about $3 million to change an NBA nickname, first of all. And for every potential customer you might make happy with a nostalgic nod to the 1990s and LJ, Zo, Muggsy and Dell, you might make another core customer, one who has a closet full of Bobcats gear he has accumulated over the past nine seasons, unhappy.

“We want to do all of our due diligence,” Bobcats team President Fred Whitfield told me Wednesday. He was speaking theoretically about any name change since the New Orleans Hornets have not officially relinquished the name they took with them when they left Charlotte after the 2001-02 season. “We do know some people believe a name change would be great. And we also know that not all of our season ticket holders are necessarily in love with the idea.”

The Bobcats are widely believed to have been named in part for previous owner Bob Johnson, who became very unpopular in Charlotte before selling to Jordan. Although Jordan was once Johnson’s minority partner, I don’t think MJ much likes the nickname. He often refers to the team as the “Cats” in conversation, dropping the “Bob” entirely. The team’s new uniforms read “CATS,” not Bobcats like they once did.

And anyway, “Bobcats” has always sounded like the name of a middle-school basketball team – one whose varsity squad was named after something bigger and more ferocious.

Here’s a golden chance to remind people of the glory days of NBA basketball in Charlotte. The name was so deeply embedded in the culture that even now people accidentally call the Bobcats the Hornets, and it’s been a decade since the Charlotte Hornets existed.

So why fight it? Embrace the change. Become the “Charlotte Hornets” once more. Give the 8,000 to 9,000 season ticket holders some extra memorabilia for free to help them get over all that Bobcats stuff they own.

From a team standpoint, the $3 million will be easily made up via jersey and memorabilia sales. Ultimately, the team will have to win to rekindle the memories for more than few months, but this is a squad going in the right direction in that sense, too.

Moving from “Bobcats” to “Hornets” makes sense from a financial and an emotional standpoint.

Bring back the buzz. Let the Charlotte Hornets live once more.

Fowler: Twitter: @Scott_Fowler;

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