Monday, November 4, 2013

Remembering the Charlotte Hornets 25 years later: A night to remember

In the 7th and final installment of our series looking back at the 25th Anniversary of the Charlotte Hornets first game, we'll look back at the big day, a day that will live on in the hearts of sports fans in Charlotte, and the Carolinas.

November 4th, 1988.  A day that will live in Charlotte and Carolina sports history forever.  It was more than just a typical day in Charlotte, North Carolina, a city of 350,000 people at the time as this city was about to hit it big on what may be considered an historic day for Charlotte and the Carolinas, it was a day that NBA basketball came to town.  A culmination of 3 1/2 years of planning was all going to become a reality on this night as the Charlotte Hornets took on the Cleveland Cavaliers in their first game in franchise history.

The game wasn't just any regular game, it was more like an Hollywood premiere combined with a gala or awards ceremony, if you get the picture, as the men were all dressed up in tuxedos, while the women wore gowns, and if you were driving down Tyvola Road, you may have saw the searchlights lighting up the sky to lead you to the new Charlotte Coliseum, which was opened 3 1/2 months ago back on August 11, 1988, and yes, the red carpet was indeed rolled out to welcome the 23,388 attendees to the first game.

Even the Charlotte Symphony was there to provide the pregame entertainment.  It was a festive atmosphere as North Carolina governor Jim Martin, and South Carolina governor Carroll Campbell, both made the journey to honor the man responsible for making the dream of bringing NBA basketball to the Carolinas a reality, George Shinn.

When the pregame festivities all wrapped up, they finally got to the starting lineups, the Cleveland Cavaliers were going to be introduced first, but when the team's first Public Address announcer, John Edwards said "And now, the starting lineups for the Cleveland Cavaliers.....", the Cavaliers remained in the locker room not knowing that the pregame ceremonies all wrapped up.  The Hornets and Cavaliers were getting ready for tip-off, and everyone took out their cameras to capture the moment that would be a memorable one indeed on a night to remember.

The two bright spots that the Charlotte Hornets would have in the game that night was the first basket ever scored in Hornets history as Kelly Tripucka would snag a rebound from Cavaliers center Brad Daugherty and he would put it in the basket, and the lone lead of the night for the Hornets would be a 34-32 lead in the second quarter, giving the crowd something to cheer about, in a building that was truly electric, and when I talked to Gerry Valliancourt, the former sports director at the Hornets television flagship at the time, WCCB, and now works at Fox affiliate WVUE in New Orleans, Louisiana back in 2008, he said that the crowd noise was indeed a factor.  "The noise was a factor and I couldn't hear myself during the broadcast." quoted Valliancourt.

But in the end, the Cavs would spoil the inaugural game for the Charlotte Hornets as they would roll on to a 133-93 win, and when the game ended, the Hornets would receive a standing ovation from the crowd acknowledging their support in the first game, despite being on the losing end of the scoreboard, to cap off a very special night in history.  The next morning, Ron Green, Sr., the long-time sports writer for The Charlotte Observer, would give his own take on the Hornets first game, stating that "It was a good day, the most exciting in Charlotte sports history.  As fine a day a city like this can hope to experience."  Experience was indeed the word of that night in November of 1988, and for those of us that were here at the time, or for those that weren't around, the night that the Charlotte Hornets took the floor for the first time would always be a special moment for all of us Charlotte and Carolina sports fans alike.  And if you're wondering who led the Hornets in the loss on November 4th, 1988, it was Tripucka and Kurt Rambis that scored 16 points each for Charlotte.

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