Tom Sorensen

Tom Talks: Hard not to get caught up in Charlotte Hornets’ opening-night victory

Charlotte Hornets forward P.J. Washington dunks against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.
Charlotte Hornets forward P.J. Washington dunks against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

As the NBA season wears on, many of us will succumb to the inevitable and pull against the Charlotte Hornets. Some of us already have started. The Hornets seem to have the 12th pick in every draft, and the we’re-number-12 philosophy hasn’t worked. The more the Hornets lose, the better their opportunities in the 2020 draft lottery.

But I don’t care whether you wanted the Hornets to win or lose when you walked into Spectrum Center on Wednesday night. If you weren’t a fan of the Chicago Bulls, you got caught up in the emotion and the good work of the home team.

You got caught up in the way the Hornets moved the ball. Point guard Devonte’ Graham had a game high eight assists, Terry Rozier had six, and Malik Monk, Dwayne Bacon and Miles Bridges had three and each of the nine players Charlotte used had at least one. They looked for each other, and they had a feel where their teammates would be.

You got caught up in rookie P.J. Washington’s 27 points and his seven 3-pointers (on 11 attempts).

You know how many 3-pointers the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry hit in his first NBA game? He didn’t hit any. He’s still going to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, however.

You got caught up in Graham’s clutch shooting and his 23 points on only nine, yes nine, field goal attempts. In 27 minutes, he turned the ball over only once. Man, he was good.

You got caught up in center Cody Zeller running the court relentlessly, regularly beating the man guarding him and scoring 15 points and adding 12 rebounds. He even put on some moves. I know what you’re thinking, but there are witnesses.

The Hornets led by 16 in the first half and by eight at the break. But the Bulls charged out in the third quarter, scoring 40 points, and they led by 10 with six minutes to play.

The Young Hornets – I keep hearing how young they are so might as well make it official – held together. Inexperience does not mean an absence of poise. In the closing minutes, Graham was great, and Charlotte won 126-125.

It was one of those games where you get caught up in the passion and the excitement, and when you walk out into the cool night air, you walk out smiling.

No room in NBA for verbally abusive fans

The NBA might be reeling from the aftereffects of its personal Chinese trade war, but more than any other sport, it gets it right.

Here’s an example.

If you sit near the court at an NBA game, you hear outrageous comments. The theory that the more somebody pays for a ticket, the more worldly and sophisticated he or she is, fails. I’ve heard nasty stuff at courtside. Maybe the ticket belonged to the fan’s mom or dad.

I listened to one very loud and very profane fan at courtside during a Hornets game, and at halftime asked him what he got out of it. None of my business, but the guy was a nasty human megaphone, and I wanted to know.

He asked me what I meant. I said that as nasty as he was, he couldn’t be having a good time. I’m paraphrasing, but he said the nastiness is the reason he has a good time.

If I ran Charlotte, I’d institute house arrest.

After several racist run-ins, and complaints from players about how the taunts are becoming worse, the NBA has this season added a rule. Fans who insist on being racist and sexist, who scream about a player’s family and purported gender preference, will be ejected.

If you sit in section 502, you’re safe, as are the players. They can’t hear you. But if you’re at or near courtside, and you get caught, you’re out.

Some fans will contend that the NBA has succumbed to political correctness. Political correctness is a term so overused and so misused that it ought to be abolished.

The white fans in Salt Lake City who flung taunts, in separate episodes, at Russell Westbrook and DeMarcus Cousins, who are black, weren’t politically incorrect. They were racist.

To the credit of the Utah Jazz, the fans that initiated the taunts were banned for life.

The theory of strength in numbers, which suggests you’re safe doing things in a group you’d never do on your own, doesn’t always apply.

One reason some of us love the NBA is the intimacy of the game. You can hear the players, and they can hear you.

Of course, fans want their team to win. But there is a line over which you can’t go, and if your brain and conscience fail to tell you where it is, the NBA will.

The dialogue can be funny. When former Hornet Dwight Howard played for the Atlanta Hawks, a friend who sat near courtside got on him. Nothing the fan said was nasty or offensive. He was funny, and on this night, loud. My friend likes neither Howard nor the Hawks, and he let Howard know.

Howard was running past the fan when there was a break in the game. Howard walked over and hit on the fan’s girlfriend.

Howard laughed and my friend laughed, and the girlfriend, now an ex-girlfriend but not because of Howard, smiled.

If you’re one of those fans who consider opposing players a testament to pure evil, and feel as if you can say anything you want anytime you want to, maybe stay home. Whether you live in the basement or up the stairs, if your reception is good enough, you pick up the games on radio and TV.

Cowboys let me down

I’ve never been one of those people who hate the Dallas Cowboys. But I like them less every week. My Lock of the Week was moving along nicely. And then, two weeks ago, I picked the Cowboys to cover against the New York Jets. They neither covered nor won. Last week I picked the Cowboys to fail to cover against the Philadelphia Eagles. They covered.

Fortunately, Dallas doesn’t play this week.

Last week: 8-6

Season: 64-41-1

Lock of the Week: Philadelphia (+5) over DALLAS. The Cowboys pulled it out by 27.

This week’s picks, with the home team in CAPS:

Thursday

MINNESOTA 14 over Washington

Sunday

INDIANAPOLIS 7 over Denver

TENNESSEE 3 over Tampa Bay

NEW ORLEANS 7 over Arizona

LOS ANGELES RAMS 11 over Cincinnati

Philadelphia 2 over BUFFALO

CHICAGO 4 over Los Angeles Chargers

DETROIT 9 over New York Giants

JACKSONVILLE 7 over New York Jets

SAN FRANCISCO 6 over Carolina

HOUSTON 8 over Oakland Raiders

NEW ENGLAND 14 over Cleveland

Green Bay 4 over KANSAS CITY

Monday

PITTSBURGH 9 over Miami

Lock of the Week: Seattle (-3½) 7 over ATLANTA. There are more really bad teams in the NFL than really good teams. The Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins are winless, and the Washington Redskins and New York Jets have one victory. So does Atlanta. The Falcons beat the Philadelphia Eagles in week two. Their last four losses have been by 14, 21, 1 (Arizona) and 27 points.

Jordan’s puzzling Steph Curry comment

Did we make too much of what Michael Jordan said about Stephen Curry? Jordan said on the Today Show that Curry was a “great player. Not a Hall of Famer yet, though.”

Curry is a two-time MVP and the greatest shooter in the history of basketball. Imagine saying that you’re the best in history at anything? All right, people say it. But imagine being it. Construction at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., already has begun on the Stephen Curry Wing.

If Jordan wants to talk to the Today Show, and not the local media, that’s his prerogative. I’ve never been a sportswriter who believes the owner of a team has to talk.

I believe he (or she) should. Fans want to know what the owner has planned, especially in a losing season. So, have to talk? No. Should talk? Sure.

I don’t mean the owner should serve as a former boxer who works as a greeter at a Las Vegas casino. But if there’s a controversial issue, he (or she) should address it. Jordan is the man fans of the Hornets most want to hear from. Some have abandoned the Hornets after the Kemba Walker fiasco (waiting too long to trade him).

If fans know the owner cares about them, maybe some return.

More important than talking to the media, however, is what Jordan said last week when he dedicated the first of two clinics he is funding. The Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinic will serve people who lack sufficient health coverage. His clinic is, and the future clinic will be, in neighborhoods that are underserved.

Jordan’s commitment is classy, and I’d rather hear him talk about what he’s doing for the city and why he’s doing it than about Washington, Rozier or what for him will constitute a good season.

I would like to know, however, about the losing. As a player, Jordan won. As an owner, Jordan loses. What do those losses do to him, why does he stay in a game that (as an owner) has not been good to him, except financially? How will the Hornets become a team that not only makes the playoffs, but also wins playoff games and series? What’s the plan?

And, lastly, how deeply is Jordan involved in his team’s personnel decisions?

Short takes: Nation will be watching Panthers

The Carolina Panthers’ quarterback debate rolls on nightly on national radio and TV, although it feels old in and around Charlotte. It’s simple to me. Let Kyle Allen start until he has a bad game and his team loses. And then, if Cam Newton is healthy, and if the team knows he’s healthy, insert him into the starting lineup…

It’s cool when the local team plays a game that national audiences want to see. The last time the Panthers played such a game was Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, a Thursday night, at Heinz Field.

Carolina was 6-2 and had won three straight. The Steelers were 6-2-1 and had won five straight. This was going to be good, and it began that way.

The Panthers scored on their first possession on a 20-yard pass from Newton to Christian McCaffrey. The Steelers came back and scored on their first possession on a Ben Roethlisberger 75-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Carolina stopped scoring. Pittsburgh didn’t. The Steelers led 21-7 after a quarter, 34-14 at the half and won 52-21. Newton was hurt, and although he continued to play, he was ineffective the rest of the season. The Panthers lost their next six games.

Sunday’s game, Carolina at the San Francisco 49ers, is different. Allen will start at quarterback against a defense that so far this season has been as good as any in the league, including the New England Patriots. Allen has yet to play against a defense as talented or relentless.

It’s one of those games where people don’t ask: Are you going to watch? They ask: Where are you going to watch?

Despite the bye last week, the Panthers lead the league in sacks. Their defense has been relentless, linemen and blitzing linebackers and backs taking off after the quarterback as if propelled. It’s great when the country cares about a game the local team plays. It’s great when you do.

Kickoff Sunday is at 4:05 p.m. If there’s something you have to do, and you don’t like crowds, do it then…

I was at home Tuesday, and my sports viewing choices came down to the World Series and the NBA openers. The NBA won…

The Detroit Pistons picked eighth in the 2015 NBA draft. If they didn’t select Justise Winslow, the wing out of Duke, that meant the Charlotte Hornets, who drafted ninth, could.

The Pistons took Stanley Johnson out of Arizona. Winslow would be Charlotte’s pick, a steal. I couldn’t wait to see the guy in a Charlotte uniform. Then the Hornets took Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin. Drafting 10th, the Miami Heat selected Winslow, no doubt opening the bottle of Dom Perignon they’d been saving as they did.

The Hornets once collected bad drafts. But this pick was as puzzling as any of them. Winslow still plays, and starts, for the Heat. The Hornets let Kaminsky drift, and he plays for the Phoenix Suns.

On opening night Wednesday, Kaminsky, a reserve 7-foot center and power forward, played a solid game for Phoenix, scoring nine points and adding four rebounds in a 124-95 victory against the Sacramento Kings.

Winslow? A 6-6 small forward, he scored 27 for Miami and added seven assists and seven rebounds in a 120-101 victory against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina Tar Heel news, rookie guard Coby White played a strong opening night game against the Hornets. White scored 17 points and added seven assists and three rebounds, and in 27 minutes turned the ball over only once. A 6-4 point guard, the Bulls chose him with the seventh pick in the NBA draft.

He’s going to be very good. But you already knew that.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Observer columnist.
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