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.

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