Thursday, October 31, 2013

Remembering the Charlotte Hornets 25 years later: Fashion, Basketball, and Barbecue

As we continue to lead up to the 25th Anniversary of the Charlotte Hornets first game this upcoming Monday, we are doing a look back at the early days of the Hornets franchise, from George Shinn assembling a "Band of Renegades" to bring Charlotte an NBA franchise, to the day when David Stern told Shinn that it wasn't a joke on April Fool's Day, 1987 that Charlotte made the cut, and in part 3 of this series, we talked about how Shinn wanted to give the fans what they want in a team name, with "Hornets" being the winning favorite in the "Name-the-Team" contest.

In this chapter of our series, we'll talk about how a famed clothing designer, with ties to our state, played a role in designing a uniform that would become one of the most recognizable looks in NBA history, and the little perk that he would get in return for designing the team's uniforms.

Fashion, Basketball and Barbecue?

There's a certain old saying that goes "Clothes make the man", and for the young Charlotte Hornets franchise, they need some colors and a jersey to make the team look great, so George Shinn enlisted famed clothing designer Alexander Julian to come up with some color combinations for the team's jerseys and colors.

Alexander Julian, who grew up in Chapel Hill and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is best known for creating the Colours by Alexander Julian fashion collection in 1981, and he was also known for the redesign of the University of North Carolina men's basketball team uniforms with the signature argyle pattern on the side of the jerseys upon the request of legendary head coach Dean Smith during the 1991-92 season. Julian also designed the jerseys and seating layout for the Charlotte Knights, a team that Shinn also owned at the time in 1990, the year that the Knights, who were affiliated with the Chicago Cubs and played in the Southern League at the time, began play at Knights Castle(later renamed Knights Stadium) in Fort Mill, South Carolina.

At one point in time during the uniform design process, Julian suggested that pink would one of the colors that the team would use, which did not please Shinn during a press conference when he announced that Julian would design the uniforms, and he was trying to decide if he would or would not use pink as one of the uniform colors.  He would go to the drawing board, and do a lot of brainstorming on some color combinations for the Hornets to use for their team colors and uniform design.  In the end, he decided that he would go with Teal, which was one of the newer colors at the time, saying that "Teal was idea to use because it was fresh and new and exciting and looked good on every color of skin tone."  said Julian. He also decided that Purple would be one of the Hornets colors to go along in the uniform design process.  He would also add in Kelly Green and Carolina Blue to the mix on the pinstripes and he would do some multi-color trims to round out the uniform design process.

And what would Alexander Julian get in return for the Hornets uniforms? Barbecue.  Why barbecue?  Because we all know that Barbecue is a way of life here in our state, and Alex would later go on to say that Shinn would send him 5 pounds of North Carolina Barbecue to his home in Connecticut, and the rest as they say, was history as Julilan's Hornets jerseys would mean a lot of historic significance, as he was the first fashion designer to design an NBA team's uniforms, while the Hornets would become the first team in history to wear Teal uniforms on the road.

In Part 5 of our series coming up, we'll put the spotlight on Cheryl Henson, the daughter of famed Muppets creator Jim Henson, as she would have the task of building a mascot from scratch.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Remembering the Charlotte Hornets 25 years later: The Name Game

This upcoming Monday will mark the 25th anniversary of the Charlotte Hornets first game back on November 4, 1988, and we are looking back at some of the important and interesting milestones from the franchise's birth.  In the first chapter, we talked about how George Shinn went from being a janitor at a business school, to making millions as owner of Rutledge Education Systems, and to assembling a group of investors in a quest to bring an NBA team to Charlotte, and in part 2, we talked about how his speech to the NBA Board of Governors led up to the phone call from commissioner David Stern back in 1987.

Today, we'll discuss about how one name didn't warm up to those of us that were growing up here during that time, and how Shinn wanted to give the fans what the wanted to look for in a name for an NBA franchise.

What's in a Name?

"Lakers", "Yankees", "Cowboys", "Celtics", those are some of the legendary nicknames that we have come to known as sports fans, but here in Charlotte, it was a tale of 2 nicknames, one that was somewhat a bad decision, while the other would be all about a connection to our city's history.  Shortly after the NBA awarded Charlotte an expansion franchise, George Shinn and his group already selected a name for the new expansion team, called the Charlotte "Spirit"?  When that was first announced, some of the fans said "What kind of nickname was that?"  Well, according to legend, Shinn wanted to choose the name "Spirit" as a reflection of the city and it's people, and many said that the choice for the name wasn't pretty, but it was part of a marketing campaign the Charlotte group had in 1986 titled "Bring the NBA to basketball country."  After Shinn realized that the "Spirit" name wasn't taking off, he would give the fans what they want the Charlotte team to be called in something he would call "Spirited Voting".  So he enlisted the help of The Charlotte Observer for a "Name-the-Team" contest, and after thousands of Observer readers sent in their suggestions for their team name, it was pretty obvious that they wanted a name that can reflect the city's history and heritage, and in the end, they chose "Hornets" as the nickname for the team.

The meaning of the Hornets nickname

When Shinn announced that the team would be known as the Charlotte Hornets, it would take a lot of hard work dig up a lot of history of the team name, as well as the historic significance to the city itself.  The origins of the "Hornets" name trace to the Revolutionary War, and one of those battles that occurred was the Battle of the Bees, which occurred on October 3, 1780. In that battle, an estimated 450 British troops were attempting to load up on some supplies from McIntyre's Farm in the Northeast end of Mecklenburg County, but they were met by a group of 14 American patriots after the British Redcoats turned over several hornets nests, causing the British soldiers to elude from them, and along the way, the hidden American patriots saw their chance to strike and open fire, causing the British to retreat in the hopes that they were under attack from a significantly larger force.  After British general Charles Cornwallis left Charlotte on October 12, 1780, he would go on to say that Charlotte was "A veritable hornet's nest of rebellion."

The "Hornets" nickname was used by our city's minor-league baseball teams from 1901-73, and it was also the nickname of our city's short-lived World Football League franchise during the 1970's.  There was a lot of reasons why the "Hornets" nickname would be a good fit for the team, and they wanted to choose it to reflect the city's history, and I did a post about the history of the Hornets name back in July, when the city's current NBA team, the Charlotte Bobcats, was on the verge of reclaiming the Hornets name again, and you can read more about it here.

In our next installment of our series leading up to the 25th Anniversary of the Hornets first game, we'll talk about how Alexander Julian wanted to design the uniforms for some good-old fashioned North Carolina barbecue, and how the daughter of famed "Muppets" creator Jim Henson got into the act of designing and building a loveable mascot we would all fall in love with.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Remembering the Charlotte Hornets 25 years later: The call that changed a city forever

As we continue to countdown to the observance of the 25th anniversary of the Charlotte Hornets inaugural game this upcoming Monday, we are taking a look back at the birth of the franchise, and how the city fell in love with the Hornets.  In part 1 of this six part series, we talked about how George Shinn made his millions as a self-made entrepreneur and how he assembled a band of renegades back in 1985 that would set out on a journey to bring Charlotte an NBA franchise.  In part 2 of this series, we'll talk about how Shinn impressed the NBA Board of Governors, and the call that would change the city forever on April Fool's Day, 1987.

How Shinn sold the NBA on Charlotte

George Shinn and his group would have to do a lot of hard work in order for Charlotte to secure an NBA franchise, and the next step in the process would have to be a presentation to the NBA Board of Governors in 1986 in Phoenix, Arizona.  Commissioner David Stern knew that he wanted Charlotte to be in the fold for an expansion franchise.  At one point, there was 11 cities that were in the running, and Charlotte was always last in the pickings, according to Shinn.

Then, came the presentation to the NBA Board of Governors, and in that speech, Shinn addressed the Board of Governors about why he and his group wanted Charlotte to have an NBA team in the first place, and the reasons why fans wanted to support the team when it would begin play in the 1988-89 season. He would go on to say that he had over 10,000 ticket deposits from those in Charlotte that signed up to be on a waiting list, and when the speech came to its conclusion, hall of fame coach Red Auerbach stood up and applauded, and he would hug him after he made his speech to the Board of Governors on that night in Phoenix.  A day later, a columnist for The Sacramento Bee said that "The only franchise Charlotte is going to get is one with Golden Arches", referring to the famed logo for McDonald's. Now, it was up to Stern to decide if Charlotte would make the cut for an expansion franchise.

The Charlotte Coliseum first opened it's doors on August 11, 1988, and it's 24,042 seating capacity would be one of the largest seating capacities in the NBA at that time.
Some of the experts knew that Charlotte would have a legitimate long shot to be in the running for an NBA expansion franchise, and Shinn's group had something called an "Ace in the Hole", and that ace in the hole was that Charlotte was already in the process of building the "New" Charlotte Coliseum, a $52 million dollar state-of-the-art 23,000-seat facility located off Tyvola Road in the western end of the city near Billy Graham Parkway and minutes away from Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, at the time during the city's quest to land an NBA franchise.  Work on the "new" Coliseum began in August of 1985, after Charlotte voters approved a bond referendum one year earlier in 1984, and when the building was completed in time for it's grand opening on August 11th, 1988, the Charlotte Coliseum would have two unique distinctions: It's 23,388 seating capacity would serve as one of the largest seating capacities for an NBA team and would be the largest basketball-specific arena ever to serve as a full-time home for any NBA franchise.

The Call that wasn't no April Fool's prank

It was April Fool's Day, 1987, and it was the moment of truth for the people of Charlotte, and for George Shinn.  The culmination of a dream and a vision to bring an NBA franchise to Charlotte would be decided with just one phone call.  Then, out of the blue, David Stern called Shinn on April 5, 1987 and he said that "George, this is April Fool's Day, but this is no April Fool, you have been selected No. 1". That phone call would seal the deal for the NBA to arrive in Charlotte, and the Carolinas.  The other 3 cities that made the cut were Miami, Florida, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, and Orlando, Florida, as approved by the NBA Board of Governors back in June of 1987. Charlotte and Miami would be the first 2 teams to play in the 1988-89 season, while Minnesota and Orlando would begin play in the 1989-90 season.

I forgot to mention this in part one of our series about the Carolina Cougars role in Charlotte's hunt for an NBA franchise, that many of us here at the time thought we didn't have a chance to land an NBA team, but for those who grew up during the 1960's and into the 1970's we were one of three cities that served as the home for the old Carolina Cougars of the American Basketball Association, along with Raleigh and Greensboro, and it was one of the key parts of why George Shinn and his group wanted the NBA to have Charlotte in the picture of getting an NBA team.

In the next chapter of our series, we'll explain about why the "Spirit" name didn't turn out to be a good choice at first for the franchise and how Alexander Julian came into the fold to design the uniforms for the team.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Remembering the Charlotte Hornets 25 years later: A 7-part series

1988, A special year in history.  A cost of a gallon of milk was just $2.30, a postage stamp: only $0.25, and the cost for a gallon of regular gas would only be $1.08.  The number one song on the Billboard chart was "Groovy Kind of Love" by Phil Collins.

1988 was also a special year in Charlotte, North Carolina, a city of only 350,000 residents at the time, as Sue Myrick was sworn in as Charlotte's first and only female mayor, famed mosaic artist Romare Bearden, who grew up in our city, died at the age of 76, The Charlotte Observer won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the downfall of Jim Bakker and the PTL ministries, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte's men's basketball team went back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1977, after the 49ers defeated Virginia Commonwealth University in the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship game.

But the date that many Charlotteans, as well as those in North and South Carolina will always remember will be Friday, November 4th, 1988, when the NBA's 24th franchise, the Charlotte Hornets, took the floor for the first time. It was the culmination of 4 1/2 years of planning and hard work for the man who had a vision to bring NBA basketball to our region, George Shinn, and in this series leading up to the 25th anniversary of the Hornets first game, we'll talk about how it all came together for Charlotte to become an NBA town. In the first of this series, we'll talk about George Shinn's role in putting it together, and his dreams of making Charlotte an NBA town a reality.

One Man's Vision

Shinn, who grew up in nearby Kannapolis, made a name for himself as the owner of Rutledge Education Systems. Prior to that, he worked as a janitor at Evans Business College, when he realized that when the school was in financial trouble, he stepped up and bought the school.  In 1985, He would put together a group of local investors, which included Rick Hendrick, the owner of Hendrick Motorsports and Hendrick Automotive Group, Felix Sabates, who currently owns a Mercedes-Benz dealership, and media magnate Cy Bahakel, the founder of Bahakel Communications, owners of Charlotte's CW affiliate, WCCB.  Many of the critics said to themselves that our city could support an NBA team, and for one columnist for The Sacramento Bee said in his article that "The only franchise Charlotte is going to get is one with Golden Arches".  Shinn's first goal was to ultimately be a owner of a Major League Baseball franchise, and he said in an interview with Charlotte Magazine, which can be found HERE, it was Peter Ueberroth, who was at the time the commissioner of Major League Baseball told Shinn that the city was too small at the time to have a Major League Baseball franchise*.

That didn't stop him for continuing his lifelong dream to bring Charlotte a true major-league sports franchise, and to add some excitement to a state that truly loves its basketball with the "Big 4" teams of Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State, and Wake Forest, as well as the college teams here locally, including Davidson, Johnson C. Smith, and UNC Charlotte. During that time, Charlotte was making a name for itself as one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States back in 1985, while the NBA announced it plans to expand, and Shinn indeed wanted to try his luck there, and after filing an application with the league for an expansion team, he had a long road ahead of him.  

In the next chapter of our series, we'll talk about the day Charlotte would get the call they've been waiting for, and in the days to come, we'll talk about how the name, uniforms, and mascot came together, as well as a roster of players that would become household names, leading up to next Monday's anniversary of the Charlotte Hornets first game.

*-Shinn's dream of becoming a baseball owner, a minor-league baseball owner to be exact, became a reality in 1987, when he bought the Double-A Charlotte O's, who were affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles and played in the Southern League at the time, from the Crockett Family and he renamed the team as the Charlotte Knights in 1988, and in 1989, he bought the Single-A Gastonia Rangers, who were affiliated with the Texas Rangers in the South Atlantic League. Shinn would own the Gastonia Rangers until 1992, when he sold the franchise to Don Beaver, who relocated the franchise to Hickory, North Carolina, where they would become what we now know today as the Hickory Crawdads.

As for the Charlotte Knights, Shinn would remain the team's owner until December of 1997, when once again, Don Beaver bought the franchise from Shinn, just like he did 5 years earlier in 1992, when he bought the Gastonia Rangers from Shinn.