By J.P. Pelosi
The Hornets were Charlotte's first pro basketball team and for almost 14 years were a lively and popular part of the NBA.
Locally, the fans packed into the Charlotte Coliseum like bees into a hive, which is no mean feat given the size of the place (around 24,000 capacity). As we're reading everywhere around the web now, Hornet diehards contributed to a sellout streak for home games over many years.
Globally, too, the Hornets had appeal. They wore teal with pinstripes, had engaging stars like Muggsy Bogues and Larry Johnson, and perhaps most importantly, were branded with a cartoon hornet. That emblem has had surprising legs, both figuratively and metaphorically.
Who doesn't love a smiling insect?
In Sydney in the nineties, about as far away from Charlotte as you might imagine, Hornets fans had an incessant buzz as well. Purple caps and teal shorts brightened playground courts across the city. Fanatics zipped up audaciously shiny Hornets Starter jackets. Players wore LJ's Converse sneakers to pick-up games. And more than a few tried not Michael Jordan moves, but Kendall Gill moves. Yes, the Lakers and Bulls were certainly better, but the Hornets held court in the trend stakes - before trending was actually a thing.
But it wasn't just their style that was remarkable. It was the way the young Hornets gelled. They were a diverse group, with a zippy point in Bogues, a powerful yet nimble forward in Johnson, a versatile center in Alonzo Mourning and a silky scorer in Gill. And that was just the half of it. They also had long bombers like Dell Curry and Rex Chapman, and a scoring forward Kelly Tripucka, whose rate of production was superb at times. It all meshed, anyway. The Hornets were a feisty and fast-breaking affair that interrupted our obsession with Eastern Conferences stalwarts like the Celtics and Pistons. They were disruptors before that was a thing.
When the team relocated to New Orleans in 2002, the colours and logo traveled down south too, but seemingly, the club's loveable aura did not. The Louisiana version never really connected, at least not in the general branding sense, and so the decision to refresh the New Orleans club by completely altering its persona took place last year. Hornets morphed into Pelicans and before you rethink that phrase again, know that stranger voodoo has happened in the deep south.
The change left the door open for the second iteration of Charlotte, Jordan's lowly Bobcats, to reclaim its Hornet moniker, and just maybe a sense of pride. The Bobcats have estimated it would cost them about $3 million to rebrand because so much signage and other logo material would have to be replaced. Should this be a concern?
The Charlotte Observer reported that sources say both Jordan and NBA commissioner David Stern advocated a switch to the Hornets to better market Charlotte’s team. So apparently the extra marketing is a non issue.
However, more work is needed in Charlotte. The Bobcats are not only a bad team but have a floundering brand. Losing will do that to you. They've only been to the post-season once since their inception in 2004 and finished the 2011-12 season with a 7-59 record. That effort was good enough for the worst winning percentage in NBA history (.106).
Jordan, a North Carolina native, knows the value of the Hornets brand and how fans still associate with the original rendition of it. After all, he was a major sporting brand before it was a thing. So he's surely willing to try anything to rejuvenate his club, short of squeezing into the Hugo the Hornet suit.
Hornets legend Muggsy Bogues recently shared with Half Court Press how special the original Charlotte team was.
"It was an amazing match made in heaven when I arrived in Charlotte," he told HCP. "It was a franchise that was looking for young talent, so to be apart of the upstart along with Dell Curry, Rex Chapman, veterans like Earl Cureton, Kurt Rambis and Kelly Tripucka, was a special time. Charlotte was everything I envisioned as a pro. The fans made it special, in addition to incoming young players like Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning."
Muggsy is right because finding players who compliment one another is a matter of luck and magic. We know this by noting the holes in Charlotte's current roster. There was something unique and timely about the original group that the new version can't simply conjure. Maybe it was the era. Perhaps it was the exuberance of the squad, led by Bogues' positive leadership and buoyed by Johnson's charisma. Perhaps it was both.
So the colours will help fans recall a wonderful brand, as will the logo, but ultimately the parts of the team must fit together. That will require personnel adjustments and better drafting. Amid such challenges, shaking up the brand is just one thing.