The Charlotte Hornets are going global next fall, playing two exhibitions in China in October against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The official announcement was made in China early Wednesday morning. The Hornets have been working on this since last fall, when team president Fred Whitfield and chief marketing officer Pete Guelli traveled to China for two exhibitions between the Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings.
The Hornets will play the Clippers on Oct. 11 in Shenzhen, a city of about 10 million people near Hong Kong on China’s southern coast. The second exhibition will be Oct. 14 in Shanghai, a city of 24 million on China’s eastern coast.
NBA exhibitions have become an annual event in China, particularly after former Houston Rocket Yao Ming became such a celebrity there. The Hornets-Clippers matchup will be the 19th and 20th preseason games played there.
Whitfield told the Observer the successful rebranding from Charlotte Bobcats to the Hornets this season played a significant role in the franchise being selected to go to China.
“Clearly when we were the Bobcats, most likely this opportunity would never have come to pass,” Whitfield said. “It’s the culmination of a lot of things coming together at the right time: The equity value that has been built in the Hornets brand, its global appeal.
“As I travel in the summer around the world – to London, to Barcelona – oftentimes over the years when we were the Bobcats, I’d see people walking around with Hornets hats on. That global appeal has always been there and I think the NBA saw the equity.
“They see a young, growing team and an owner (Michael Jordan) who is the first majority owner who was a player in the NBA.”
Hornets general manager Rich Cho and coach Steve Clifford were involved with the decision to do this. Clifford was an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic when those teams took similar preseason trips.
Whitfield and Guelli spent a week in China last fall for what Whitfield called “deep due diligence.” They met with NBA officials based in China and incoming Commissioner Adam Silver. They met with Nets and Kings officials to make sure schedules, accommodations and practice facilities were all such that the Hornets could have a productive preseason.
“It’s safe to say we were the only team that has advanced a trip to China,” Guelli said, adding he has filled three ring binders with research and data.
“Everything we saw was 100 percent first-class,” Whitfield said. “We felt the NBA really has this down to a well-oiled machine.”
While this is primarily a league marketing initiative, Whitfield and Guelli believe a China appearance will be helpful in keeping up the branding momentum that switching to the original Hornets’ name and colors started.
“The equity this brand already had globally was substantial and the season we’ve had reflects that,” Whitfield said, mentioning that team store sales in Time Warner Cable Arena have tripled this season year-over-year.
This is the first time playing outside North America for the franchise that started in 2005 with the Bobcats, but not a first for NBA basketball in Charlotte. The original Hornets played in Europe in the fall of 1994, versus the Golden State Warriors in Paris and Buckler Bologna in Bologna, Italy.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell