Eleven-year-old Hannah Berryhill has spent most of her childhood listening to her father tell tales of the former Hornets in their heyday. As proof of her indoctrination, she sported a purple wig on Wednesday.
She and her parents, Trey and Susana Berryhill, traveled from Fayetteville to stand in a line outside Time Warner Cable Arena, waiting with thousands to celebrate the return of the Hornets name to Charlotte after a 12-year absence. The Hornets started their season with a 108-106 overtime victory against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The team was greeted by thunderous applause, stomping feet and a parade of exuberant fans – all of that before the game.
Inside the arena, old met new amid swarms of fans who donned hats, jackets, head scarves and blazers. One man wore teal flannels. Workers handed out glasses of champagne and freebies at the entrance. Fans received Hornets balloon creations, including hats and swords.
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They created a sea of purple and teal in the arena’s main lobby, and crowded the team store so much that moving became a chore.
“The Hornets are part of this city’s fabric,” said Paul Tatsis 37, of Charlotte, who carried a “Charlotte Hornets Forever” sign speckled with glitter. His wife, 38-year-old Kim Tatsis, joined him, holding a sign that read: “Party Like It’s 1988.”
The Hornets launched in Charlotte in 1988 before then-owner George Shinn moved the franchise to New Orleans in 2002. Two years later, the NBA added the Bobcats franchise in Charlotte under majority owner Bob Johnson. Michael Jordan bought the team in 2010.
New Orleans relinquished its rights to the name last year, making the Hornets available again. To bring back the Hornets name, the team underwent an extensive re-branding process that included redesigning the court and rolling out new jerseys and logos.
Paul and Kim Tatsis consider themselves die-hard Hornets fans. They supported the grassroots “Bring Back the Buzz” campaign that pushed to restore the Hornets name and have vowed never to leave a game before it’s over.
“I thought of the Bobcats as Bob Johnson’s Bobcats,” Paul Tatsis said. But the Hornets, he said, belong to Charlotte.
Will Vogel, 20, and his friend, Christian Henkel, 18, both of Charlotte, said they were big Bobcats fans. Now that the buzz is back, they’re “most definitely” bigger Hornets fans.
Besides, “purple and teal go much better than orange and blue,” said Vogel, who showed off a picture of him with Hornets superstar Muggsy Bogues at a Harris Teeter last year.
John “Redd Foxx” Jackson, 82, of Charlotte said he’s met nearly all of the players. He’s a self-proclaimed Hornets “super fan” with a “museum” of the team’s memorabilia in his hallway, den and living room.
He said he’s missed only two Hornets games in his life: one when his wife died and a second time when he went out of town.
“I always come early and stay late,” he said, adding that he records every game, including Wednesday’s season opener.
James Pike’s parents attended the Hornets’ inaugural basketball game in 1988. He believes there’s no way the Hornets shouldn’t make the playoffs.
Pike, a 21-year-old student at Belmont Abbey College, couldn’t convince his family to join him Wednesday, but said there was no way he would miss the Hornets’ return.
Neither could Beverly Dulin-Massey.
Her first time at a basketball game was more than 20 years ago when a friend took her to the old Charlotte Coliseum to watch the Hornets play. Since then, Dulin-Massey, 56, has been hooked on the buzz, collecting team jerseys, hats, blankets, a lunchbox and a “throwback coat” she left at home.
“I’m dedicated,” she said.
So is the Berryhill family. For Trey Berryhill, 48, witnessing the return of the Hornets name is not just about supporting his favorite NBA team. It’s about passing on a legacy to his daughter, Hannah.
“Years from now, she’ll tell her kids ... she was a part of history,” he said.