Sorensen: George Shinn says Hornets name belongs in Charlotte

tsorensen@charlotteobserver.comDecember 12, 2012 

George Shinn, the former owner of the Charlotte, and New Orleans, Hornets, calls Tuesday from Nashville. He lives outside Nashville and operates his charitable Trulight Foundation there.

His message is clear. When New Orleans’ NBA franchise relinquishes the Hornets’ name, Bobcats’ owner Michael Jordan should pounce on it.

Shinn, 71, backs up a little and says he isn’t telling Jordan what to do.

“If Michael sees fit, I’d like to help,” Shinn says.

He says the Hornets nickname would be great for Jordan, Jordan’s team and the community.

“It was never my name,” says Shinn. “It belonged to Charlotte.”

It belongs to Tom Benson, who owns the name and the basketball team. To his credit, Benson would like a name that’s tethered to New Orleans. Rarely do names tied with one region work in another. Utah Jazz is a failure. New Orleans Hornets is a failure. Los Angeles Lakers works only because the name is distinctive and the team used to be.

Pelicans works because the Pelican is Louisiana’s state bird. The Hornets could become the Pelicans as soon as next season.

This would free Hornets, and for no more than $3 million – $2.5 million was the figure quoted to me last season – the Bobcats could make the name theirs.

“I think they should use the colors, the mascot, all of that,” Shinn says.

The Hornets played in Charlotte from 1988 to 2002. Shinn’s relationship with Charlotte tanked, attendance tanked, and he moved the team to New Orleans. He sold it in 2010.

You old-timers will recall that after the NBA awarded Shinn a franchise he assembled a committee to select a name for it. The committee, filled mainly with local businessmen, chose Spirit.

I wonder what they named their kids.

Shinn didn’t like the name, and neither did anybody outside the committee. So fans voted. Gold was considered, as were Knights and Cougars.

During the Revolutionary War, angry Charlotteans drove British Gen. Charles Cornwallis out of town. Cornwallis called the city a hornets’ nest of rebellion.

Shinn talked about the name’s historical significance Tuesday. He also talked about the good old days, before he and Charlotte had a falling out, and the passion with which fans cheered his team.

He knows, and you know, that major league sports can be new only once and that it’s never going to be 1988 in Charlotte again.

But to think of the days of Muggsy and Dell, LJ and Zo, Kenny Gattison and Rex, sold-out Charlotte Coliseum and screaming fans, is to smile. When I encounter a former Hornet such as Tim Kempton, whom I ran into last month, he invariably does the same.

One reason Shinn is excited about the name change is because this is his turf. He’s from Kannapolis, and name-change proponents might appreciate his support and remember him more fondly.

But his enthusiasm is real. The more he talks about the Hornets, the more passionate he becomes.

“The name will bring fans back,” Shinn says.

Before we end the conversation, he says again that if Jordan wants the name he’ll do anything he can to help.

Shinn is a friend of Benson. He says he wouldn’t merely call Benson on Jordan’s behalf. He’d go to him. He’d go to NBA commissioner David Stern.

Charlotte and the Hornets were good to him, Shinn says.

If he can help get them together again, he will.

Sorensen: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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