Thursday, November 6, 2008

20 years ago: The Charlotte Hornets played their first game

On the eve of the New Orleans Hornets visit to Charlotte to face the Bobcats tomorrow night at Time Warner Cable Arena, a little bit of Charlotte and Carolina Sports history took place 20 years ago this week.

This past Tuesday marked the 20th Annniversary of the first professional sports game ever played in the Carolinas and that game was played by a unknown team that would become a household name for 14 seasons here in Charlotte, and that team would be none other than the Charlotte Hornets.

Let's turn back the clock to Friday November 4th, 1988, a day that will be remembered by a lot of people not only here in Charlotte, but for those throughout North and South Carolina.

It was a festive atmosphere out at the old Charlotte Coliseum off of Tyvola Road, lots of fans were dressed in tuxedos and gowns and the Charlotte Symphony provided the pregame entertainment and there was several dignitaries that were at the first Hornets game, including former North Carolina Governor Jim Martin and the late Carroll Campbell, the former Governor of South Carolina to honor the man who made the dream of bringing professional sports to the Carolinas, the Owner and Founder of the Hornets, George Shinn.

And the funny thing was that once the Pre-game ceremonies ended, the team's very first Public Address Announcer from 1988-1990, John Edwards(not to be confused with the former North Carolina Senator), was about to introduce the Cleveland Cavaliers and they didn't show up for the introductions, and do you want to know why? They stayed in the locker room.

23,355 packed the 4-month old facility, which was opened on August 11 of that year and the only key moment that bought the crowd to its feet was when the Hornets grabbed the lead in the 2nd Quarter 34-32, but in the end, the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated Charlotte 133-93 and the sellout crowd gave them a standing ovation in a city that was primarily a baseball town with the old Charlotte O's(who Shinn purchased in 1988 and renamed the team as the Charlotte Knights).

The Charlotte Hornets had two more memorable moments from year 1 of their existence, they won their first game in team history, a 117-105 win over the L.A. Clippers on November 8th at the Coliseum, but the game that ushered in the golden years of Hornets Basketball and the title of "Carolina's Team" took place on December 23rd of 1988, when Michael Jordan, now Managing Member of Basketball Operations for the Charlotte Bobcats, the city's current NBA team, led the Chicago Bulls to the Coliseum for a nationally-televised game on SuperStation WTBS and the Hornets won at the buzzer on a Kurt Rambis tip-in, 103-101 to start a 364-game sellout streak and the rise of "Hornetmania" here in Charlotte, an era that saw the team lead the league in attendance for 9 out of 10 years.

On the night following the Hornets first game, former Charlotte Observer Sports writer Ron Green, Sr. said that "It was a good day, the most exciting in Charlotte sports history, as fine a day a city like this can hope to experience." It was indeed a day that would go down in Charlotte and Carolina sports history back on that November night back in 1988, when the Hornets played their first game.

Now, the team is in New Orleans, keeping the nickname that they had when they were here and they'll be back in town tomorrow night to face the Bobcats, and some of us will wear the Orange and Blue of the Bobcats, while others will break out the old Purple and Teal of the team that was the original "Carolina's Team".

Oh by the way, the leading scorers for the Hornets in their first game were Kelly Tripucka and Kurt Rambis, who had 16 points each to lead Charlotte in the loss.

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