Basketball

Memories from the Hornets' first season

Imagine. Twenty years.

It's been that long since I covered that first Charlotte Hornets team. That's two decades ago, two arenas ago, two teams ago. Yet in some ways, that was the best pro basketball's ever been in this town, because it was all so new, almost innocent, in nature.

I will share 10 memories from that team – the charming, the weird, the funny. Here goes.

TUXEDOS AND TEAL: The team asked people to rent formal wear for that first opening night, and a shockingly high number did, complete with teal-colored ties. Makes that Panthers edict about fans keeping their shirts on pretty reasonable.

SIZE MATTERS: My colleague, Tom Sorensen, once asked coach Dick Harter what his problem was with Muggsy Bogues. First, Harter jumped on a chair and yelled menacingly over Tom's head. Then Harter dropped to knees, waving his arms desperately at the height of Tom's chest. That was Harter's way of saying a 5-foot-3 point guard wasn't his preference.

DINNER RESERVATIONS: I was in a hotel elevator in San Antonio with a couple of players. One of them asked the athletic trainer for a restaurant recommendation. “Dick's Last Resort,'' the other replied, eliciting this smart-aleck response:

“I thought that was (rookie) Rex Chapman?''

AIR APPARENT: Yes, the Observer overdid it a bit the first time Michael Jordan played in Charlotte. An artist's rendering of Jordan took up about 90 percent of the sports cover that day, prompting Kelly Tripucka to ask me if the Observer now circulated in Chicago.

THAT NIGHT: Beating Jordan and the Bulls on that incredible December tip-in by Kurt Rambis changed everything. The hysteria was such that the team couldn't find the governor a seat. Afterward, there was no greater status symbol than Hornets season tickets.

MONEY GRAB: The team made $11million that first season, prompting owner George Shinn to exercise a clause allowing him to buy out his partners. It got public and ugly and certainly wasn't the last time Shinn showed his pragmatic side.

LIKE YOU WOULDN'T: As a city, we got all huffy when Syracuse center Rony Seikaly said he'd rather be drafted by the Heat than the Hornets. Never mind that any of us, at 22, would have rather hung out on Miami Beach than Trade and Tryon.

HOUSE CALL: After Sorensen nicknamed Tim Kempton “Dr. K,'' Kempton posed for a goofy photo shoot, in surgical scrubs, holding a scalpel. I'm thinking that wouldn't happen much with today's pro athletes.

OR HOW ABOUT THE “DOVES'': The Hornets' first starting center played for a high school with the nickname “Bunnies,'' which strangely enough fit the way Dave Hoppen played.

RIGHT ON CUE: And finally, every Hornet was sick of Harter's tales about Larry Bird's work ethic – how he was at the Boston Garden hours before home games, running and shooting with a monk-like zeal. So that first trip to Boston, the guys all looked forward to proving Harter wrong. Then they show up for shootaround, and there was Bird – running the stairs by his lonesome.

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