Bobcats plan to become Charlotte Hornets

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comMay 18, 2013 

The Charlotte Bobcats are on their way to becoming the Charlotte Hornets.

The Bobcats have started pursuing a name change to Charlotte’s original NBA team, an informed source has confirmed to the Observer. Though the Bobcats will need permission from the league to make such a change, incoming NBA commissioner Adam Silver has twice indicated that shouldn’t be a problem.

 What’s still in question is when the name change could be implemented and how extensively the Bobcats would assume the Hornets’ old look. The source, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, would not comment on whether the popular teal-and-purple color scheme would return to Charlotte.

The Hornets were Charlotte’s first major-league team, and for most of 14 years the town embraced the team. The consecutive sellout streak for home games reached 364, nearly nine full seasons.

 Players like Muggsy Bogues and Dell Curry still live here and are still prominent figures. The Hornets drafted power forward Larry Johnson and center Alonzo Mourning with top-two picks and they led the team to an unlikely victory over the Boston Celtics in a first-ever playoff appearance in 1993.

 But even before then the Hornets owned the town. They lost their first home game by 40 points to the Cleveland Cavaliers, yet received a standing ovation following that game. Despite going 20-62 that first season, the Hornets were featured in an uptown parade. Years later Mourning, Johnson and Bogues were pictured on a mural across a wall of one of Charlotte’s bank towers.

 A generation raised on the Hornets kept wearing the teal-and-purple gear after the team left town, and started lobbying for a switch back to the old name and logos over the internet. The campaign came to be known as “Bring Back the Buzz’’ and has several thousand followers on Facebook.

Any change probably couldn’t be implemented before the 2014-15 season. Silver said last month during a trip to Charlotte that it would take a minimum of 18 months to rebrand an NBA franchise. The league’s uniform-maker, Adidas, and other licensees need that much lead time to produce branded merchandise.

The Bobcats have estimated it would cost them about $3 million to rebrand because so much signage and other logo material would have to be replaced. Sources indicate both Bobcats owner Michael Jordan and outgoing NBA commissioner David Stern advocated a switch to the Hornets to better market Charlotte’s team.

CBSsports.com first reported Friday night that the Bobcats have applying for rights on the Hornets name the New Orleans franchise recently discarded to become the Pelicans. The Pelicans name changed opened the door for the return of the Hornets name to Charlotte.

While the nostalgia associated with the Hornets could give the Bobcats a pop, it won’t count for much if they continue to struggle on the court. The Bobcats have gone a league-worst 28-120 in games over the past two seasons.

“There is enough nostalgia about that name that they could get some good karma from it,’’ Columbia sports-marketing professor Joe Favorito said in December. “Would they stick around if the team isn’t good? Probably not. But that nickname could have the effect of getting some customers to give it a second look.’’

Silver has said a name change to “Charlotte Hornets’’ is somewhat streamlined because the league already owns rights. But the Bobcats still must go through an approval process with the league, then work through all the logistical issues involved in rebranding.

A dispute over the suitability of the Charlotte Coliseum (which had only a handful of luxury suites) caused then-owners George Shinn and Ray Wooldridge to apply for relocation to New Orleans.

The NBA eventually granted the Hornets permission to move in 2002, but simultaneously began negotiations to replace them in Charlotte with an expansion team. That team, awarded to Bob Johnson, was named the “Bobcats’’ with an orange-and-blue color scheme.

That name never caught on with Charlotteans. After annually losing millions, Johnson sold majority control of the Bobcats to Jordan in March of 2010. Jordan, who had been a minority owner since 2006, has often said his goal is to recreate the atmosphere he experienced playing against the Hornets in the 1990s.   

The prospect of Charlotte getting back the nickname and logo became easier when New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson bought the Hornets and immediately indicated he wanted a nickname more associated with Louisiana. Over the winter, the NBA signed off on a change to the Pelicans.

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