Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Bobcats Extra: A history of the "Hornets" name in Charlotte

Tomorrow will be the day we've been all waiting for, as this city will finally welcome the Hornets name back to town after almost 12 long years, as the NBA Board of Governors are expected to give the green light for the Charlotte Bobcats to change its name to the Charlotte Hornets for the 2014-15 season.  Of course, our city's first NBA team was called by that name from its inception in 1988 until the time they moved to New Orleans in 2002.  I was around during the time the original Charlotte Hornets got started, and followed them until that heartbreaking day they left for New Orleans.  For those of us that haven't lived here in Charlotte around the time the original Hornets played here, and didn't know what the "Hornets" nickname was all about, here is a little history lesson for you about the history of the Hornets nickname in Charlotte, and it goes a little something like this.

"The Battle of the Bees"

The roots of the "Hornets" nickname trace back the 18th century, and it's roots can be traced to the "Battle of the Bees", which took place on October 3, 1780, when a group of 450 British soldiers were attempting to load up supplies from McIntyre's Farm in the Northeast end of Mecklenburg County, until one of the Redcoats unexpectedly turned over a hornet's nest, sending the enraged insects into a angry swarm, causing the British soldiers to elude from them, while the 14 American patriots saw their chance to strike and open fire, causing the British to retreat in a hope that they were under attack from a significantly larger force.  After British general Charles Cornwallis left Charlotte, he would state that Charlotte was "A veritable hornet's nest of rebellion."

Charlotte Hornets Baseball(1901-1973)

The first use of the "Hornets" nickname for Charlotte's sports teams occurred back in 1901, when the Charlotte baseball Hornets, a minor-league baseball team, took the field for the first time.  The Charlotte baseball Hornets was at one point the farm team of the old Washington Senators from 1937-1942 and again from 1947-72 and later the Minnesota Twins from 1961-73.  The team captured 11 league titles, and had many players that played at what was then Clark Griffith Park(later Crockett Park/Knights Park) on Magnolia Avenue in the Historic South End portion of Charlotte, including Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Graig Nettles, and Rick Dempsey.  The team played until 1973 and the Hornets left Charlotte after that season, leaving the city without minor-league baseball until 1976, when the Charlotte O's arrived.  They would eventually become what we know know today as the Charlotte Knights.

Charlotte Hornets football(1974-75)

In 1974, the World Football League's New York Stars would relocate to Charlotte in the 1974 season and played out that remainder of the season as the Charlotte Stars, before changing its name to the Charlotte Hornets, and it was the first major-league team to call Charlotte home.  They played all their games at American Legion Memorial Stadium on Kings Drive.  The team would play until 1975, when the World Football League was ceased to exist.

Charlotte Hornets(1988-2002)

It would take 13 years for Charlotte to secure another major-league franchise, and under the vision of Kannapolis, NC native George Shinn, he would make it happen, transforming Charlotte from a small, sleepy Southern town, into a NBA hotbed.  At one point in time, the franchise was originally going to  be called the Charlotte "Spirit", but many fans didn't like that suggestion at all, so in 1987, he held another "Name-the-Team" contest and "Hornets" was the favorite, since it had a historical significance to our great city.  It would become one of the most popular brands in all of pro sports in the late-1980's and into the 1990's because of its purple and teal color scheme and the uniforms that were designed by Chapel Hill native Alexander Julian, and of course a teal and purple mascot named "Hugo", not to mention players that would become household names, such as Muggsy Bogues, Dell Curry, Kendall Gill, Larry Johnson, Kelly Tripucka, J.R. Reid, Alonzo Mourning, Johnny Newman, Baron Davis, David Wesley, and Jamal Mashburn. The original Hornets sold out 364 straight games at the Charlotte Coliseum off of Tyvola Road, which has since been demolished, and led the league in attendance in eight out of ten years.  But in the team's final years, things didn't go the way things planned for the Charlotte Hornets, and after a referendum was voted down, Shinn and his partner at the time, Ray Woodridge, moved the team from Charlotte to New Orleans in 2002, taking the "Hornets" name with them as well.

New Orleans Hornets(2002-2013)

Upon relocating to New Orleans, the team kept the Hornets name, and fans were hungry to finally see NBA basketball return to the "Crescent City", while we fans here in Charlotte went through a long withdrawal without NBA basketball The Hornets made their debut in New Orleans, Louisiana back in 2002, with some of the same players that were held over from the team's final years here in Charlotte.  In 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the city, and the devastation was heartbreaking for those in the city, and the team would eventualy play 2 seasons as the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, as they played half of their games in Oklahoma City, before returning to New Orleans full-time in 2007.  Then in April of 2012, Tom Benson, who also owns the NFL's New Orleans Saints, bought the team from the NBA(Shinn sold the team to the league in 2010), and hinted at a possible name change to better suit the people of New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana, so he settled on "Pelicans", named after the Louisiana state bird, triggering off discussions of a possible return of the "Hornets" name back home to Charlotte.

The return of the Buzz to Charlotte
Once the switch was made in New Orleans, the talk about Charlotte possibly getting the Hornets name back swirled throughout not only the city, but throughout North and South Carolina as well. A grassroots movement called "Bring Back the Buzz" was launched to urge the Bobcats to take back the "Hornets" name, while over the last few months, and weeks, many ex-Charlotte Hornets players announced that they would go "All in" and back the name change from Bobcats to Hornets. Then on May 21st of this year, Bobcats chairman Michael Jordan announced that the organization filed an application to the NBA league office to change the franchise's name from the Bobcats to the Hornets, and NBA deputy commissioner/commissioner-designate Adam Silver said repeatedly that he sees no problem with the league approving the name change since the league owns the rights to the "Charlotte Hornets" name, and it could take 18 months to make the change official, as the league's Board of Governors will vote on this matter tomorrow.

And there you have it, a somewhat abridged history of the "Hornets" name and its connections to Charlotte as we await the much-anticipated stamp of approval by the NBA Board of Governors tomorrow to give us the green light to change the name of the franchise from the Charlotte Bobcats to the Charlotte Hornets in time for the 2014-15 season.

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