The Charlotte Hornets’ final stage of rebranding took place on Thursday night at Time Warner Cable Arena – where fans gathered to see the new court layout and watch the 2014 NBA draft.
It was a spectacle. A long line of fans toured the new court surface, Hugo the mascot interacted with children and adults in the concourse and people took photographs with life-size cutouts of former Hornets Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson.
D.J. Dexter, a Charlotte area musician, believes that the name change has rejuvenated the city.
“I think it’s bringing back a fan base,” he said. “I don’t think the Bobcats ever had a true fan base. There was support from Charlotteans for the hometown team, but they never had a base like the Hornets.”
About 4,000 of the Hornets faithful filled out one baseline side of the arena. The fans, covered in purple and teal – mainly teal – watched as the Hornets selected their first draft pick since 2001 – when the team took Kirk Haston with the 16th pick out of Indiana.
The Indiana University pipeline continued on Thursday night. A year after drafting Cody Zeller – a polarizing pick among a polarized fan base – the Hornets drafted Big Ten Freshman of the Year Noah Vonleh from the Hoosiers. Most Hornets fans were fine with that – at least the ones who knew who he was.
“I would have something to say, but I’ve never heard of the guy,” one fan said as he exited the arena.
Most fans who were familiar with Vonleh’s play were pleased with the pick.
“It was smart,” Charlotte resident Edwin Wilson said. “I think they can get a shooter later in the draft or get a shooter in a trade.”
Charlotte student Alex Denham would have rather had a scorer, but he believes the Hornets’ front office has a plan.
“I think it’s educated,” he said. “I think they know what they’re doing.”
The 24th pick offered fans a bit of confusion after a trade with the Miami Heat resulted in the Hornets sending pick Shabazz Napier to South Beach. But a “We want PJ” chant indicated the fans are happy with their end of the deal – former North Carolina shooting guard P.J. Hairston.
“This is sweet,” one teenage fan said as he was leaving the draft party at the end of the first round. “The buzz is back.”
Shoff: 704-358-5928; Twitter: @curryshoff