Muggsy Bogues is showing campers at Crews Road Recreation Center in Matthews a crossover dribble. He goes between his legs and hard to his right, all precision and speed, and now hes free.
Those of us who watched the Charlotte Hornets in the 1980s and 90s have seen this move. Bogues was the teams point guard and soul, a 5-foot-3 leader seemingly immune to fatigue. A collection of personalities and talents, the early Hornets were more special than almost any of us player, fan, media realized.
They also had it easy. Charlotte was by major league sports standards an outpost in 1988, when the NBA sent the Hornets our way. It was like getting running water or electricity.
There was nothing to compare the Hornets to or measure them against. No Charlotte team, not even the Carolina Panthers, has or will receive a warmer welcome.
You get to be new only once, of course. Thats the reason comparisons between the Hornets and Charlotte Bobcats are unfair. The Bobcats never felt new. They never found abundant good will on which to capitalize.
Until they go deep into the playoffs, theyll always finish second in the NBA standings in their own town.
Thats a ghost theyre fighting right now, says Bogues, 47.
Bogues wears the black and gold shorts of his alma mater, Wake Forest, late Monday morning. He played 10 seasons for the Hornets. He has run the Muggsy Bogues Basketball Camp 20 years.
Monday is the first day of the five-day camp. Kids as young as 6 and as old as 14 run drills beneath six baskets. Bogues is leader and cheerleader and coach and friend. A little girl begins to cry and Bogues attempts to comfort her. Shes not comforted.
So they walk off the court and sit on the floor and lean against the wall. Five minutes later shes back with her group and seemingly fine.
Some of the little girls can be timid and feel a little uncomfortable, Bogues says. I try to make them feel like theyre part of it and this is their camp as much as mine.
The Hornets name is as much Bogues as it is anybodys. When I think of the players, I think first of Bogues, Dell Curry and Larry Johnson. Bogues saw Johnson this weekend at a charity golf tournament in Akron, Ohio.
But theres a bigger story than the name. The story is who wears the name. What should the Bobcats do with the second pick in Thursdays NBA draft?
Whoa, thats the big question right there, says Bogues. The guy to me is (Kansas forward Thomas) Robinson. (Kentuckys Michael) Kidd-Gilchrist is another player, but the downside to him is his outside shooting is not as improved at this point. He could be a great player. But I like Robinson.
Does it make a difference whether Robinson plays for the Bobcats, Cats or Hornets?
Bogues says he understands the power of the name.
If Mike (Bobcats owner Michael Jordan) wants to consider bringing the name back Id understand, he says. But youre more concerned about the product than the name, and bringing more talent into the building.
Its more important to get involved with the community. No matter what the name is, youve got to engage and make sure people know who they are. About the Hornets, the town knew us, they knew our families and knew what we were about. A lot of these guys (the Bobcats players) you dont know much about.
Adds Bogues: If the Bobcats can get the product they want, and a more exciting style of play, theyll create a lot more enthusiasm instead of grinding it out and not getting any entertainment out of it.
Bogues was entertaining. He saw angles few players do and many fans saw themselves in him.
And here he is, at the recreation center, dribbling hard, and its the early 90s again.
Every time that ball is in our hands you have that feeling, says Bogues. It never changes no matter how old you get. Im looking at L (Larry Johnson), Im looking at Dell.
Hes looking at a ghost that grows larger every year.