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For Charlotte, nothing but net

Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.

I declare a one-day moratorium on criticism of the Charlotte Bobcats. Today we will speak not about the qualities the team lacks, among them a head coach. We will not talk about next week’s lottery or next month’s draft.

As obvious as the move was, the Bobcats got one right. They told the NBA they want to change their name to the Hornets. Both names – Bobcats and Hornets – have a history in Charlotte. Only one of those histories is positive.

Acquiring a new name is not like acquiring a big man. So those of you excited about the change will hear from people who complain that the move will not make the team better.

Of course it won’t. What it will do is put the Bobcats in position to further their relationship with fans.

Changing a name is like buying a house. There will be about 50 papers to sign and perhaps an inspection. Hey. Don’t look too close.

But the Bobcats will become the Hornets. I salute the grassroots movement – driven by neither the team nor the media – that led to this.

The Hornets played 14 seasons in Charlotte. They started in 1988-89 and left for New Orleans after the 2001-02 season.

The Hornets offered a beautiful naiveté and a stunning lack of pretension. There was no barrier between the team and our town. At most there were a few orange cones.

It felt as if we were in this together. The Hornets led the league in attendance eight times.

They lost their first game by 40 points. One of the players walked into a Charlotte restaurant that evening and received a standing ovation.

The Hornets won 20 games their first season and were feted with a parade. The Bobcats won 21 games this season. There was no parade.

The early teams had character and characters. Muggsy Bogues and Dell Curry were outstanding at what they did and great to hang around. Kenny Gattison played hard and, more importantly, gave great quotes on deadline. Rex Chapman took splay-legged jumpers that made old-school coaches gasp, including the one he played for.

Center Tim Kempton told a teammate he could stick an entire Whopper in his mouth. Former Observer columnist Doug Robarchek bet Kempton $200 he couldn’t. Kempton, 6-foot-10, folded the thing up and stuck it in his mouth, all of it, easily. He donated the $200 to a homeless shelter.

Dick Harter, the first head coach, drove through Myers Park on a two-seated bike with his wife Mari in the back and their pet rabbit in a basket on the front.

I ran into the team’s general manager and the head coach before a game. They had cut a player that day and were glum. I mean, they were depressed.

But he never plays, I said.

His girlfriend is beautiful and she dresses great, they said. She won’t come to games anymore.

In 1992-93, the team’s fifth season, the Hornets made the playoffs.

Their first-round series against the Boston Celtics was tense and thrilling and, man, did Charlotte care. Remember the night Curry hit everything and Boston tough guy Xavier McDaniel roughed him up? Larry Johnson set a pick on X that floored him. X jumped up, looking to fight. Johnson smiled and walked away.

The Hornets led the best-of-5 series 2-1 , and Game 4 was played at Charlotte Coliseum.

Curry slipped Alonzo Mourning a pass in the waning seconds and Mourning hit a 20-footer, with 0.4 remaining, to win 104-103. Players piled on Zo, fans piled on each other and, for a moment, all was right in the Charlotte sports world.

A team can be new only once. It never will be 1993 again.

But if changing the name makes fans feel as if it is, why not?

Some days it’s tough to be a sports fan in Charlotte.

This is not one of them.

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