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.

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