Hornets dream comes true for grassroots fan groups

jjones@charlotteobserver.comMay 18, 2013 

Fifth graders in John Morgan’s art class at Prospect Elementary School had bought into their teacher’s hobby.

Morgan, 31, started the “We Beelieve” campaign three years ago in hopes of bringing the Hornets name back to Charlotte’s NBA franchise.

His students knew about his passion, and so when it came time to paint a ceiling tile in the classroom, the choice was obvious.

“I give them eight different paintings to choose from, and they all wanted to do Hugo,” said Morgan, referring to the Hornets mascot. “Nevermind the fact that none of them were born when Hugo was here. But they all identify with the Charlotte Hornets.

“You’ve got your Picassos and Gauguins and Andy Warhols, and then you have Hugo hanging out in the middle of them.”

Morgan is one of three men who started a grassroots campaign to change the Bobcats’ name to the Hornets, and the Charlotte team has started the process to make the switch. Because of excitement, Facebook updates and texts from friends, Morgan said he got about two hours of sleep Friday night after the news broke.

Brothers Evan and Scotty Kent began the “Bring Back the Buzz” campaign around the same time as Morgan’s “We Beelieve.” Evan, a 21-year-old marketing major at Appalachian State, is happy the work he and his brother put in has paid off.

“It’s nice to be, ‘Mission accomplished,’” Evan said. “We’re excited to make a fan group and just be normal fans again.”

The campaign grew from an Internet petition to a Facebook page to television commercials broadcast in the Charlotte market. Morgan said at the risk of sounding falsely modest, he understands the place he and the Kents had in the conversation to change the name.

“There’s been a deluge of people personally thanking me and us and giving us all this affection and ‘way to go guys,’ ” Morgan said. “I think we kind of brought the conversation into the public consciousness. It was always something to me that just made too much sense, it probably won’t happen. It’s too perfect.

“I think we were a catalyst or a template for people to sort of voice their own desires. If it wasn’t us it would have been somebody else. It was too obvious.”

The men have received both praise and criticism over the past three years. While some thanked them for championing the cause, others criticized them as basement-dwellers who weren’t focusing on the real issues with Charlotte’s NBA team.

Last year, the Bobcats finished with the worst winning percentage in NBA history. This season the team tripled its wins from the previous season, but still finished 21-61.

“The major point that we’ve always made is that these are not mutually exclusive things,” Evan Kent said. “You can have one and have the other. A $3 million name change isn’t stopping us from getting to the playoffs. We have other management issues that are stopping us.”

The process to make the switch is likely to take about 18 months, which means the Hornets won’t return until the 2014-15 NBA season.

But the three men don’t mind having to wait. They’re just happy this time has finally come.

“We started three years (ago). If we have to wait another year and a half we’re perfectly fine with that,” Scotty Kent said. “I think I speak for the majority of the group when I say that waiting a year and a half to have the Hornets for the rest of our lives, I’m completely fine with that.”

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