They were my team.
They came to me like the Carolina Panthers eventually did. Before the Panthers arrived, I was a Washington Redskins guy, lover of all things Gibbs, Theismann and Riggins. But then the Panthers showed up and Daniel Snyder took over in Washington, making the split easier.
The Charlotte Hornets, though, took a little bit more time. I was an unathletic kid who liked to shoot baskets in his driveway. In other words, I was a Boston Celtics kid. Bird. McHale. Parrish. DJ. Ainge. Maxwell. JoJo. Fitch.
But then the Hornets showed up out of the teal blue. And with Bird in decline, McHale barely able to get up and down the floor, my allegiances shifted. Just like David Stern wanted them to.
And so when Dr. K, Tim Kempton, came up with a big board, and when Kelly Tripucka came back onto the floor and cried in a postgame interview, and when Armand Gilliam made a pass once, I was there. Not in the Charlotte Coliseum, but in heart and soul. Boxscores. Newspaper clippings. Magazine articles. Posters.
The Muggsy Bogues replica jersey.
I was that guy. I was the one who thought the guy tossing the big foam brick behind the basket on foul shots was cool. I followed the Hustle Stats during games. I watched to see how many bee logos lit up the scoreboard, the barometer by which decibel levels were measured in the arena. I thought the Hive Five was… OK, I thought the Hive Five was terrible.
This was my team. All mine. My buddy had a horrific teal and purple windbreaker. Ghastly. It made Member’s Only jackets look hip. He loved it. It was teal and purple. I wished I had it.
They were worthless to start, but the Hornets won more games than the other expansion team, the Miami Heat, did that first year. I know because I followed it. One. Five. 10. 13. 14. 18. 20. The Heat never got past 15.
Then the ball started rolling. Larry Johnson, “Grandmama” came along. Then “Zo,” Alonzo Mourning. Those two with Kendall Gill? This, my friends, was a team.
And it was my team.
But then things soured. We found out owner George Shinn had an affinity for Hornets’ dance team members, and a parade of kinda good players came through the turnstiles — Glen Rice, Vlade Divac, Kenny Anderson, Anthony Mason, Eddie Jones. Came and went, it turned out, just like the fans started doing.
Soon Shinn started telling us the most modern arena in the league less than a decade earlier was all of a sudden outdated. He brought in an insufferable blowhard named Ray Wooldridge as a minority owner, and the team started shopping around, holding Charlotte ransom for a new arena while the owners’ private jet was gallivanting to Louisville and Roanoke and New Orleans.
ShinnRidge didn’t get its arena and left town, ripping my heart out. And they did it with the other NBA owners’ blessing, of course. Why wouldn’t they approve the move? What if they wanted to move one day?
It’s a different NBA now. There’s something called the Memphis Grizzlies. Something called the New Orleans Hornets. And something called the Charlotte Bobcats.
And just this week, on Thursday, the band of billionaires approved the SuperSonics’ owners a potential move from Seattle to Oklahoma City, turning their collective backs on the wonderful fans of Sonics basketball, a 40-year institution that has an NBA championship banner in its rafters. The owners approved it by a vote of 28-2. ShinnRidge, of course, wasn’t one of the two.
Three days later, the NBA playoffs began, capping an incredible regular season unlike any in the league’s history.
But not all fans are rejoicing.
Some of us are wondering where our team is playing.