Mark Washburn

How has Charlotte turned into such a loser?

Let’s try to look on the bright side of this gloomy thing.

• More time for Sunday shopping.

• No danger of overloading the new escalators.

• Nothing’s stopping you from calling a friend in Boston to brag that we, too, can still make the playoffs. Technically.

Now let’s look at reality.

We stink.

We stink in professional football. We stink in professional basketball. We also stink in minor league baseball, but that’s nothing ESPN cares about, and we only care about what ESPN cares about.

That’s because the vaunted image of Charlotte, a sparkling monolith that pulled itself up from the muddy red clay in the middle of nowhere, is a national laughingstock.

Typical NFL joke: What do you call the winning team in Charlotte? Visitors.

Three great moments define our city. That time we got a professional basketball team. That time we got an NFL franchise. And maybe that time the railroads came through.

When you go somewhere and you tell people you’re from Charlotte, do their eyes grow large, and do they say, “Oh my! Wasn’t that the home of the exciting 2012 Democratic National Convention?” Do they gasp and ask, “Isn’t that the nation’s second-largest financial center in terms of institutional deposits?” Do they brighten and say, “I have heard that the city is conveniently located in such a magical place that you can drive to the ocean, the mountains or Atlanta in a single day.”

No, they do not do that. They say: “Oh, I am sorry. Bless your heart.”

Then, if they’re kind, they’ll touch your arm gently and confide: “I completely understand. My daughter once married a man who turned out to be a Cubs fan.”

At some point, you have to wonder whether our national reputation is that of a bustling Sun Belt dynamo or the nation’s sports doormat. City motto: “Welcome to Charlotte. We lose!”

Professional sports exist to unify and honor the communities they represent. We spiff up their arenas and we get to bask in the reflected glory of our champions.

We were all about acquiring franchises. We’ve never been all about winning. We’re more like the kid that gets picked last when choosing teams.

We deserve better. We’re a nice city, good people, healthy kids. Other than the toll lane schemes, we’re honest people.

What they’re saying this morning in New Orleans: “Our defense is terrible, Drew Brees will be lucky if he can drive himself to the stadium and everyone needs a week off. Fortunately, we’re playing Charlotte.”

Our Hornets just racked up a 10-game losing streak. Our Panthers are setting records for interceptions (or, as we say in ever-polite Charlotte: “Completions to alert members of the opposing team”).

When the Hornets nipped the Knicks, the New York papers screamed “Nightmare!” Everyone’s talking about the Hornets’ new uniforms. Nobody’s talking playoffs.

In football, our quarterback is prancing around town hawking cologne.

Unfortunately, this is appropriate. Because we stink.