You can throw around catchphrases like “Buzz City” or “The Hive Is Alive” all you want, but there’s not a hornet-related pun this team’s marketing department can come up with that fully captures what was going on inside Time Warner Cable Arena on Saturday night.
Or what level of pandemonium could erupt there Monday night if the Charlotte Hornets tie up their first-round series against Miami in the NBA Playoffs.
On Saturday, at least, the pivotal moment was clear: A three-pointer by Jeremy Lin in the third quarter all but guaranteed the Charlotte Hornets wouldn’t get swept by Miami in the NBA Playoffs.
And the instant fan reaction was something way more intense than plain-old buzz.
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Hornets owner Michael Jordan, who seems to rarely show emotion, leaped out of his chair at the end of the home team’s bench and pumped his fist hard enough to send a shiver up Floyd Mayweather’s spine.
Across the floor, rapper/minority owner Nelly – who rarely seems to not show emotion at games – responded by jumping so high that when his Nike Air Force 1s returned to the ground, the impact almost knocked the dark, gold-rimmed sunglasses off his nose.
Pent-up frustration dating back to 2002 – a year when, ironically, Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” was the No. 1 song in the country – felt like it was released, in an instant. And from the best seats to the worst ones, 19,604 fans pooled their voices to generate a communal scream the likes of which typically only materialize under this roof at a Taylor Swift concert.
Hello, eardrums. Goodbye, postseason losing streak.
This was all in rather stark contrast to a couple of hours earlier on Saturday, when Charlotte’s fans were feeling more jittery than jubilant.
Primarily, there was pressure because the Hornets had entered the afternoon down two games to none to the Heat in the best-of-seven series, and because one more loss would have given Charlotte the unenviable distinction of tying the record for the longest postseason losing streak in league history.
But on top of that, fans were being browbeaten – affectionately, of course, but still browbeaten – into putting on the black “Enter the Swarm” T-shirts that were draped over their seats to welcome them when they arrived for Game 3 in uptown.
Over and over, someone or something playfully implored fans to don their gratis garments, using tactics including but not limited to casting real-time shots of certain ones onto the Jumbotron and leaving them there until the red-faced “victims” dutifully pulled the collars of those black tees over their heads.
And if it came off as wildly entertaining, that should come as no surprise; after all, the Hornets do ballyhoo astonishingly well.
Fans could see it Saturday as soon as they walked into the building, where they were greeted with pearly-white smiles by members of the Honey Bees dance team, and with free “Enter the Swarm” headbands to go with the shirts waiting for them at their seats.
They could feel it, too, when they got chills watching magnificent, network-TV-caliber promo videos on the Jumbotron that featured intense, slo-mo action shots of the team’s most popular players set to rousing pop songs such as Patrick Stump’s “This City” and Jay-Z’s “Run This Town.”
Those ultra-high-flying, trampoline-assisted dunks by Super Hugo and The Flight Squad? They’ll inspire at least a little awe in even the crustiest fan. That flashy, let’s-get-LOUD public-address work by “Big Pat” Doughty? It’s among the best in the NBA. The Kiss Cam? The Simba Cam? The Lip-Sync Cam? They’re gimmicks that never fail to produce an awkwardly hilarious moment.
But that’s just hype. First-rate hype, but hype all the same.
At this point, it has been almost two years and nine months since the NBA Board of Governors approved Charlotte’s application to ditch one of the least-popular names in the history of professional sports. Two years and nine months since “Buzz City” was founded, since “The Hive” came alive, since fans were ushered into a new era of hype.
And on Monday night – in their most critical playoff game since George W. Bush’s first term – the Hornets will get another very big chance to make their hometown fans believe it.
Hornets vs. Heat, Game 4
When/where: 7 p.m. Monday; Time Warner Cable Arena, 333 E. Trade St.
Then: The best-of-seven series returns to Miami, with Game 5 set for Wednesday night.