In My Opinion

Bobcats become Hornets on Tuesday, and Charlotte should feel good again

tsorensen@charlotteobserver.comMay 19, 2014 

On Tuesday, the Charlotte Bobcats become the Charlotte Hornets. For thousands of fans of basketball and of Charlotte, Tuesday will be a holiday. You earned it.

The Hornets were Charlotte at its best. In 1988 we finally had a major-league franchise. We were in the same league as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, and the NBA standings proved it.

I am not a joiner. Never have been and never will be. But when I walked into Charlotte Coliseum in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, I felt as if I was part of something. We all did.

Neither fans nor management, neither players nor media, realized what we had. Every home game felt like an event. You want to see somebody you hadn’t seen for awhile? The Coliseum was where you went.

Some of the most compelling athletes to pass through Charlotte played for the Hornets. When I run into them, and the old days come up, they smile.

Of course, Charlotte was naïve. Fans in larger cities with pro-team experience knew their role. They demanded. We figured ours out as we went along. It was enough to have professional basketball players in our town and on our team. We adopted the Hornets the way college fans adopt a college team. The Hornets were ours, and we were thrilled.

Those are the memories and moments the Hornets’ name evokes for me. Starting today, there’s an opportunity to create more.

The beauty of the name change is that it originated not on high but below. It was as grassroots as Charlotte 49ers’ football. Fans pushed because they believed, and that belief became a movement.

The Bobcats – bye, Bobcats, see you, wouldn’t want to be you – were cautious. They had to be. They had a brand to protect and sponsors and season ticket-holders to appease. They’d already dumped “Bob.” They were simply the “Cats.” They reached the same conclusion fans did.

It will never be 1988 or the early ‘90s in Charlotte again. We’re not nearly as naïve as we were, and a team can be new only once.

But Tuesday is a good day for our city and the basketball team. The name is back.

The timing is impeccable. The Hornets – isn’t it nice to use that name? – no longer are bottom-feeders. They have their point guard, their big man and their coach. They made the playoffs.

Maybe this, too, is naïve. But even with their big man hobbling Charlotte never backed down from two-time defending champion Miami. I liked that series, as much for what it implied as what it delivered.

Despite being swept, the Hornets showed that if they acquire a few more pieces, they can put together a successful program, not a team but a program. Programs last.

They need a shooting guard that can shoot, a back-up center and a back-up point guard. They need to retain Josh McRoberts, a big man who makes passes most power forwards don’t even see.

Maybe they find talent in the draft or maybe they go out and pay for it. They have the money.

So: As cool and as warm as Tuesday will be, I want more.

Imagine Charlotte becoming deeper and more talented. Imagine Charlotte parlaying that talent next season into a fifth seed or a fourth seed or even a third seed.

Imagine that when the second round of the 2014-15 playoffs begins, the Charlotte Hornets are still in them.

We know the name and what it reprensents.

A year from now, perhaps everybody will.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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