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In My Opinion

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Hornets nickname returns, and it feels like 1988 in Charlotte

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.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/20/17/49/18m0uB.Em.138.jpeg|316
    David T. Foster, III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
    Charlotte Hornets fans take photos and walk by a new Hornets logo inside Time Warner Cable Arena after a press conference marking the official return of the Hornets team name to the Charlotte NBA franchise on Tuesday.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/20/18/25/11fhJN.Em.138.jpeg|217
    David T. Foster, III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
    Charlotte Hornets fans makes their way to the lower bowl inside Time Warner Cable Arena prior to a press conference marking the official return of the Hornets team name to the Charlotte NBA franchise on Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Step into the Charlotte team store Tuesday at Time Warner Cable Arena.

On one rack is a “CLEARANCE, CLEARANCE, CLEARANCE, CLEARANCE, CLEARANCE, CLEARANCE” sign.

Beneath the sign is Charlotte Bobcats gear.

Above the store, inside the big window on the Trade Street side of the arena, is the world’s largest sticker. It’s Hugo the mean-looking Hornet.

“Happy Hornets day,” a team store employee says.

And it is.

On Tuesday the Bobcats became the Hornets. The new name won’t make the team better, but the $17 million the Hornets have to spend on draft choices and free agents ought to.

The name change will make them more interesting.

“It’s surreal,” says Fred Whitfield. When the Hornets played their first game at Charlotte Coliseum in 1988, Whitfield was a season-ticket holder. Now he’s the team’s president and COO.

The Bobcats finally are in position to become a factor in Charlotte. For so long a conversation between potential fans went like this: What do you want to watch tonight, basketball or a movie?

The Bobcats usually lost there, too.

But the team more than doubled its victory total this season, and made the playoffs, and reclaimed its name. That’s synergy, good timing and good work.

Whitfield says the Bobcats have sold 2,000 more season tickets this off-season than last off-season, and their season-ticket renewal rate is 90%.

“It’s a completely different feeling when you talk about professional basketball in Charlotte,” he says.

About 200 fans came to the arena Tuesday for the name-change news conference and joined Hornets’ employees in sections 101 and 117.

They’ll have other opportunities.

On June 5, Hugo the Hornet returns. It won’t be the original Hugo from 1988, because 1988 was 26 years ago. The original Hugo is doing somersaults, not flips, and sometimes he needs a push.

The new uniforms will be unveiled June 19. The primary colors will be the old Hornets colors, purple and teal, the secondary colors black, gray and light blue. No pleats, please.

Fans will see the team’s new court June 26, the evening of the NBA draft.

The Hornets’ will play their first summer league game July 11 in Las Vegas.

Regular-season opening night will be the biggest event the basketball team formerly known as the Bobcats has ever had. Past and future will come together. We’ll remember the old days and celebrate the new.

Charlotte coach Steve Clifford talks about the former Hornets he coached against and I like hearing the names – among them Muggsy and Dell, LJ and Zo, Rex and Glen Rice. Two other players that those of us who were here should remember – Kendall Gill and Kenny Gattison.

As Tuesday’s festivities conclude, director of communications Josh Rosen stands behind a lectern and tells fans they can watch the news conference on Bobcats.com.

He quickly catches himself and says, “Hornets.com.”

I ask if he has to pay a fine for using the old name.

Rosen pulls out a $1.

It might have been $1 in 1988. This isn’t 1988. Here in the arena it just feels like it.

Sorensen: 704-358-5129; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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