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.

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