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In My Opinion

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Charlotte has shot to get its basketball buzz back

By Tom Sorensen

The Charlotte Hornets played their first NBA game here in 1988. We loved them.

In 2002, long after they no longer were beloved, the team and the Hornets name moved to New Orleans. When they left – and many fans choose to forget this – few cared. We reacted with apathy, not anger. If we lined the streets, it was to tell the trucks hauling the team’s equipment to take a left in Montgomery, Ala., and a right in Mobile.

But before the relationship soured with the Hornets and owner George Shinn, it was as if we were a campus and they were our team. If you have snapshots from the late 1980s and early and mid-90s they show an arena jammed with passionate fans, players we felt we knew and a team that often contended for and occasionally made the playoffs.

Tom Benson, who bought the New Orleans Hornets from Shinn this season, wants to make the team his own, and so he is shedding connections to Charlotte. The NBA team in New Orleans will now be called the Pelicans, Benson announced Thursday.

This makes Hornets a free agent name that the Charlotte Bobcats can claim.

I don’t know anybody who prefers Bobcats to Hornets, which is to say I don’t know Bob Johnson, the first owner of the Bobcats.

The Hornets were this city’s ticket to a bigger stage. They were our first NBA team. Suddenly we were in the same league as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, and the standings proved it.

A name change, however, has to be about more than nostalgia. Reclaiming the name will cost the Bobcats about $3 million.

Will fans buy tickets to watch a sub-.500 team simply because they like the name on the front of the jerseys?

The Bobcats have commissioned Harris Interactive to poll their fans as well as the public.

The team has to take care of its regular fans. If those regulars prefer Bobcats to Hornets then owner Michael Jordan and his front office team have a tough call to make.

Despite their inability to win at home – the Bobcats have lost 16 straight at Time Warner Cable Arena – they’re entertaining for a bad team. I’d show up on a cold morning to watch point guard Kemba Walker shoot baskets in a driveway. I admire the daring with which fellow point guard Ramon Sessions plays and I like rookies Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor.

But the relationship between the team and the town has yet to take hold.

Example: The last five times I’ve picked up takeout food at a bar or restaurant the Bobcats have been on TV. Each of the restaurants had multiple television sets. Four of the five times I had to ask the bartender to put the Bobcats on one of them.

The last time I did this, an NHL fan who was watching hockey said nobody cared about the Bobcats. I told the guy I thought the NHL season had been canceled because of a lack of interest. (I couldn’t think of anything better.) We didn’t exchange cards.

I don’t know when the Bobcats will become consistently competitive. Their mission is to engage peripheral fans until they do.

Attaching Hornets to their uniforms will help. The movement to bring back the name didn’t originate in an office with a mahogany desk. It was grassroots, and it is real.

The Charlotte Hornets will sell more gear than the Bobcats ever have. They’ll also sell out their first game, maybe their first two. New is wonderful. But new wears out.

I hope Charlotte tells Harris Interactive that the Hornets will be our team.

As young players such as Walker and Kidd-Gilchrist develop, I hope we prove it.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119
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