The Charlotte Bobcats are a professional basketball team based in Charlotte, North Carolina. The team was originally named the Charlotte Hornets, but the name was taken by former owner George Shinn for his New Orleans Hornets franchise.
Birth of the Charlotte Hornets: 1985-1988
In 1985, the NBA announced plans to expand the league. Local Charlotte businessman, George Shinn promised the state of North Carolina that they would have their own NBA franchise within ten years. Shinn would quickly establish an ownership group to head the franchise.
Due to North Carolina’s rich history in basketball, it was obvious that the NBA wanted a team in North Carolina. Charlotte was the perfect place to have it due the town being the largest city in North Carolina and because it was one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States.
Despite all of this, most critics did not think that Charlotte could contain and maintain their own basketball team. There was a joke by one critic saying that the only franchise Charlotte could hold would be a fast-food franchise. The main thing that got Charlotte the franchise was George Shinn’s Charlotte Coliseum, an arena that could hold up to 24,000 spectators. This was the largest arena in the NBA during this time. On April 5, 1987, David Stern, the NBA commissioner, announced four franchises that had been granted, Miami, Florida’s Miami Heat, Minneapolis-Saint Paul’s Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando, Florida’s Orlando Magic, and Charlotte, North Carolina’s Charlotte Hornets.
The team was originally named the Charlotte Spirit, but a name-the-team contest proved the Hornets to be a fan-favorite. The name comes from the city’s resistance to the British during the Revolutionary War, which earned the city the name of the “Hornet’s nest.” The name had also been used for names of defunct sports teams based in Charlotte.
The Hornets received a lot of attention for its choice of teal in their uniforms, setting off a fashion craze in the late 1980s until the early 90s. Many teams in other leagues used teal in their uniforms also.
Despite concerns that the Charlotte Coliseum was too big, team owner George Shinn hoped that the area’s love for college basketball would transfer into Hornets support. These hopes would materialize as the tickets would sell 21,000. Tickets were very difficult to acquire during this period. The Hornets sold out for 358 consecutive games, which equals nine NBA seasons.
Carl Scheer was hired as the teams first general manager. He made the decision to put veteran players on the roster to have a competitive team as soon as possible. Scheer would also hire veteran assistant coach Dick Harter as head coach.
Early Years: 1988-1992
In the earlier years of the Charlotte Hornets, they were led by former Detroit Pistons guard, Kelly Tripucka. Tripucka would provide instant offense for the young team. He would be the franchise’s leading scorer for its first two seasons. The team’s first ever draft pick, Rex Chapman, was a 3-point shooting threat. Muggsy Bogues, the shortest player in NBA history, was the teams floor general. Despite all of this, the Hornets proved they were an expansion team by finishing 20-62.
The 1989-90 season was just a horrible season. Dick Harter was fired as head coach midway the season in January after players got tired of his defensive-oriented style of play. He would be replaced with Gene Littles. After this the team would go on a 3-31 stretch that lasted until March. This would effectively end the Hornets season as they would finish 19-63, the worst record in franchise history.
Charlotte would pick up guard Kendall Gill for the 1990-91 season and would see their win totals increase from the previous season, they would finish 31-51 and host the All-Star Game, but still got the first pick in the 1991 NBA Draft. They would choose UNLV 6'7 forward Larry Johnson. Johnson would finish amongst the top in all of the categories amongst rookies and would win the 1992 Rookie of the Year Award. Kendall Gill was the team’s leading scorer and the team stayed in playoff contention until mid-March.
Playoff Contender: 1992-1999
In 1993, the Hornets won the second pick in the NBA Draft and chose 6'10 Georgetown University center Alonzo Mourning. Mourning would quickly form a super-duo and led Charlotte to the best record in the franchise’s history and their first ever playoff berth. The Hornets finished 44-38 and would defeat the fourth-seeded Boston Celtics 3-1, but would fall to Patrick Ewing’s New York Knicks 4-1.
During the next few seasons, the team faced various injuries to Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson. They would miss the 1994 playoffs, posting a 41-41 record. They would return to prominence in the 1994-1995 season posting a franchise-best 50-32 record, they would then lose in the first round of the playoffs to the second Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls 3-1.
After the season, Alonzo Mourning was dealt to the Miami Heat due to his ongoing conflict with teammate, Larry Johnson. The Hornets would get Glen Rice, Matt Geiger, and Khalid Reeves. Geiger and Johnson would lead the team in rebounds, while Rice and Johnson would lead the team in scoring, All-Star guard Kenny Anderson would replace the injured Muggsy Bouges for the season. Despite all of the changes, Charlotte would miss the playoffs again with a 41-41 record. At the end of the season, NBA legend Dave Cowens would become the head coach.
The offseason would bring forth many changes as Kenny Anderson decided to leave, franchise player Larry Johnson was dealt to the New York Knicks, they drafted Kobe Bryant and sent him to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vlade Divac. The new-look Hornets became instant favorites to win the title as they posted a 54-28 record, the team was led by Glen Rice and Anthony Mason as they both had career seasons. This was the best season in franchise history with 54 wins. In the playoffs, they would fall to Larry Johnson’s New York Knicks in a 3-0 sweep.
The Hornets would also be successful in the 1997-1998 season as they picked up Davis Wesley and Bobby Phills. Charlotte was again led by Glen Rice, the league’s sixth leading scorer. He would lead the team to their second ever second round appearance. They would again lose to the Chicago Bulls.
1998-1999, the lockout year, was a horrible season as they traded Glen Rice to the Lakers for Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell. Dave Cowens resigned from head coach and Paul Silas came in as the Hornets missed the playoffs.
End of Success: 1999-2002
Charlotte would return to prominence in the 1999-2000 season after acquiring Derrick Coleman and drafting Baron Davis. The team would dominate the 1999-2000 season, but would lose guard Bobby Phills to his death in a car accident in January 2000. His number was retired in February of that year. They would return to the playoffs and would fall to Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers. During the offseason, Eddie Jones and Anthony Mason were sent to Miami for P.J. Brown and Jamal Mashburn.
The season would be overshadowed by off-court issues surrounding the team. Interest in the Hornets were on the decline because of their disagreeance with owner George Shinn and his decisions. This was mainly not paying star players enough money to stay on the team. Fans would become more upset with the franchise when Shinn refused to let Michael Jordan become the head of basketball operations.
What would generate the most headlines would be a woman that accused George Shinn of raping her. Despite him winning the case, his reputation was ruined in the city of Charlotte and in the state of North Carolina. The Hornets’ attendance would drop even further and would never recover as fans took their anger out at the team.
Exit Hornets, Enter Bobcats
Even though the Hornets continued to have competitive teams, attendance continued to fall, mainly because George Shinn had become a local villain. The Hornets would rank at the bottom of attendance throughout the early parts of the decade.
Shinn would soon demand a new arena to be funded by the city of Charlotte, because the Charlotte Coliseum was no longer adequate. The city would refuse and Shinn threatened to move the team if they did not supply the team with a new arena. He looked at Memphis, St. Louis, Norfolk, and Louisville as possible relocation places.
The city would then offer to build a new arena in Uptown Charlotte and Shinn withdrew his relocation form. The only thing about the arena was that it had to be passed by citizens of the city, it was passed, but mayor Pat McCrory vetoed the bill. The city would find another way to build an arena, but Shinn had to sell the team to do so. The NBA knew that Shinn was bad to Hornets fans, but also knew that this deal would anger other owners. Charlotte would not back away from the deal so Shinn decided to move the team to New Orleans, Louisiana. The Hornets were to play at the New Orleans Arena starting in te 2002-2003 season.
Despite losing the Hornets to New Orleans, the NBA promised that the history would stay in Charlotte and that they would get another franchise to begin play in Charlotte in the 2004-2005 NBA season. This deal went through before the Hornets finished the playoffs.
Charlotte Bobcats: 2004-present
The Charlotte Bobcats would hold their expansion draft on June 22, 2004, picking up Predrag Drobnjack and Sacramento Kings forward Gerald Wallace. They would gain the second pick in the 2004 draft and chose Emeka Okafor, the 2005 Rookie of the Year. The Bobcats would post a franchise-worst 18-64 record, coached by Bernie Bickerstaff. This was the most losses they had since 1990. The most important win came on December 14, when they defeated the New Orleans Hornets 94-93 in overtime.
During the offseason, Michael Jordan finally got his job as president of basketball operations for the franchise.
They would improve by eight games to a 26-56 record behind point guard Raymond Felton, but would again miss the playoffs. The team did better than expectations winning despite losing Emeka Okafor to injury.
Charlotte would win seven more games than the previous season going 33-49 led by Okafor and Felton, but still missed the playoffs. Bickerstaff would resign as coach, but remain as GM. Sam Vincent would become the new coach. In the 2007-2008 season, the Bobcats finished 32-50 with one less loss than the previous season. In 2008, Vincent was fired as Charlotte's coach and was replaced by the legendary, Larry Brown.
The Bobcats played their first home games at the Charlotte Coliseum as the Charlotte Hornets and their first season as the Bobcats. In 2005, they began play at the Charlotte Bobcats Arena.
The arena has since been named the Time Warner Cable Arena.
- Charlotte Coliseum (1988-2005)
- Charlotte Bobcats Arena (2005-2008)
- Time Warner Cable Arena (2008-present)
Players of Note
- Larry Johnson
- Alonzo Mourning
- Glen Rice
- Eddie Jones
- Anthony Mason
- Baron Davis
- Muggsy Bouges
- Bobby Phills
- Eddie House
- Jumaine Jones
- Steve Smith
- Kareem Rush
- Jason Kapono
- Jason Hart
- Melvin Ely