University City

UNCC filmmaker documents grassroots effort to bring Hornets name back to Charlotte

After three years of filming, a documentary about the grassroots effort to bring the Charlotte Hornets NBA team name back to its home city has a release date in the spring.

Rusty Sheridan, 36, is the filmmaker and director behind the “Charlotte Hornets, 2.0” project. As a Charlotte native, Sheridan said, he has been a Hornets fan from the team’s inception.

Sheridan also teaches film studies at UNC Charlotte – his alma mater – and is an assistant professor of mass communications at East Tennessee State University.

Though Sheridan’s experience includes television commercials, narrative feature films and Webcast projects, “Charlotte Hornets, 2.0” was his first documentary.

“You need time and money. They take years,” he said. This passion project, he said, has been fun, although it’s been a long process.

“It’s not just about a basketball team, but the hornets’ nest as a metaphor for the grassroots movement,” Sheridan said. “That’s what it’s really about: uphill battles in the face of adversity.”

Linked to city’s history

In 2010, when Sheridan initially liked a Facebook page building public support for returning the Hornets name to Charlotte, he didn’t think it would happen, he said.

“The Bobcats were here, the Hornets were in New Orleans. There was no possible way,” Sheridan said. “Everyone was saying it was a pie-in-the-sky pipe dream.”

But as the grassroots movement gained momentum in early 2012, particularly through social media, he began documenting fans’ stories, as well as the history behind the name, Sheridan said.

During the Revolutionary War in the late 1700s, British Gen. Charles Cornwallis called Charlotte “a hornets’ nest of rebellion” after experiencing persistent resistance from local militia, especially by snipers. The name has stuck, Sheridan said.

The hornets’ nest insignia continues to be used in official capacities, such Mecklenburg County’s crest, as well as by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, he said.

“The history is specific to a Charlotte audience. I don’t know how many people in Wisconsin care about the historic angle of the hornets’ nest, and I’m catering to that,” Sheridan said.

He said his ideal audience ranges from fans of dramatic sports stories to those with a sense of pride in Charlotte and its history.

“People who saw the Hornets come saw Charlotte transform into a different kind of city,” Sheridan said.

“It was a sleepy town in the ’80s. Then there were the Hornets, and it became a banking hub,” he said. “ The story of the team coming, leaving and coming back again, that’s great drama.”

Team colors drew fans

Charlotte Hornets had been used by a Charlotte minor league baseball team and a World Football League team. But the name took hold when the local NBA franchise – which many regard as Charlotte’s first major sports team – adopted it from 1988 to 2002.

Sheridan said the team was in town during what may have been a golden age for the NBA, with characters across the league, such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Dennis Rodman, among others.

“People were more fans of the NBA in the ’80s and ’90s,” he said.

Part of what set the Hornets apart from general NBA fandom and appeal to people outside the sporting world were the team’s colors, Sheridan said.

“The deliciously gaudy purple-and-teal and pinstripes It was so different than anything else from the NBA, or any pro team.”

In 2004, the Charlotte Bobcats were established locally after the Hornets moved to New Orleans in 2002, taking the name with them.

It wasn’t until New Orleans announced it would change its NBA name to the Pelicans after the 2012-13 season that the return of the Hornets name to Charlotte seemed feasible, Sheridan said.

Compelling clips

Now, with roughly 40 hours of footage from the past three years to edit, Sheridan said post-production includes logging the film to compile the most compelling clips.

Documentary interviews include former and current Hornets players such as Muggsy Bogues, Kemba Walker, Cody Zeller and Lance Stephenson; local historian Jim Williams; Charlotte Observer sports columnist Tom Sorensen; and grassroots Bring Back the Buzz campaign founders Evan and Scotty Kent, as well as We Beelieve founder John Morgan, among others.

What the final “Charlotte Hornets 2.0” product will look like depends entirely on funding, Sheridan said.

Through crowd sourcing on, his goal was to raise $12,000 to be able to create a 30-minute feature to shop around to networks such as ESPN or PBS, he said.

The campaign closed to donations on Dec. 11, having raised roughly $1,500.

Sheridan still plans for the film to be finished and released, though it will likely be about 10-15 minutes.

The annotated version will likely be entered in a number of film festivals, shown at smaller museums and theaters, and will help bolster his own portfolio, Sheridan said. He plans to keep interested viewers in the loop with updates to his social media accounts and website.

During the past three years, Sheridan said, he’s had production help from six to eight camera people, sound technicians and others, work they often did for free.

He received a small grant from The Arts & Science Council for production help, but Sheridan estimated that had the entire project been funded, it likely would have cost roughly $25,000.

“It’s been a passion project so long. It’s a lot of time and a lot of money,” he said. “But that’s the life of a filmmaker (and) the nature of the business.”