Scott Fowler

Playoffs... playoffs?! It could happen twice in Charlotte

Let’s start today’s column with a question: When was the last time the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte’s NBA franchise played in a playoff game in the same calendar year?

A hint: it was the same year Princess Diana died, “Titanic” was released at movie theaters and people used mobile phones simply to make and receive calls.

It was 1997.

The Carolina Panthers made it to the NFC championship game in January 1997 before losing at Green Bay. Three months later, led by Glen Rice, the Charlotte Hornets finished off a 54-28 regular season. They then got swept in a first-round playoff series with the New York Knicks.

That was 17 years ago, but it is close to happening again. The Panthers went 12-5 this season, including that home playoff loss to San Francisco last month. The Charlotte Bobcats will enter the all-star break in decent position to make the playoffs for the second time in their franchise history, which began in 2004.

Throw those two teams’ bright futures in with the fact that the Charlotte Knights will open a beautiful new uptown baseball stadium April 11, and there’s a chance – not a certainty, but a chance – that we are at the beginning of a golden age in Charlotte-area pro sports.

• I asked on Twitter about people’s favorite “Southern snow sports.” One of my all-time favorites got a mention: lunch-tray sledding. In college, several of my fondest memories involve lunch trays borrowed from the school cafeteria and used as homemade luges.

• Center Al Jefferson – he of the $13 million-per-year contract – has been worth every penny (by the NBA’s inflated standards at least) for the Bobcats so far.

More evidence of what he does for the Bobcats was found in this quote Tuesday night from Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, after Jefferson had scored 30 in the Bobcats’ 25-point win. Said Carlisle: “When we double-teamed him, he found people to pass out to. … And when we didn’t, he shredded us. That’s the story.”

• Although mid-March around here is sacred ground for college basketball, tennis will make a rare foray into the world of roundball that month. I’m looking forward to Thursday, March 13, when John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Pat Cash headline a very competitive foursome for a night of senior tennis at Time Warner Cable Arena. Tickets start at $25 and are available through Ticketmaster.

• The Panthers will play Seattle at home for a third straight season in 2014, and that game looms larger than any of their others. Lose that one and the odds that the Panthers would have to go through Seattle in the playoffs to get to the Super Bowl increase dramatically. Win it, and you know you can beat anybody.

• Congratulations to Michael Jordan and his wife, Yvette, who gave birth to the couple’s identical twin baby girls Sunday. Jordan will turn 51 next week. I hope he has banked a lot of sleep over these past few years.