As the Bobcats stumbled to the worst season in NBA history, a group of true, um, Bee-lievers mounted a campaign to reclaim the Hornets name. But will nostalgia really make Charlotte love pro basketball again? Or will it just beget more nostalgia?
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Charlotte was so invested in the Hornets that some people are still bitter about what was. With the Bobcats, on the other hand, they have a hard time getting invested in what is.
Ever come across a “If I Were a Charlotte Bobcat” book? Didn’t think so.
Think back to when you were a kid. You probably had a favorite team. And there’s a good chance you still pull for that team today. Psychologists have a term for this: the reminiscence bump. It applies to music. It applies to movies. And it applies to sports. Whatever team left a strong first impression on you as a child is probably still the team you love today. And the people who grew up in the warm and fuzzy era of the Hornets are the same people who showed up for Swarm Time Warner.
“That initial identification is like your first true love,” says Dr. Susan Whitbourne, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts who has written about sports fans for Psychology Today. “It’s hard to change.” Second-time expansion teams have it tougher, she told me. “The average fan is going to take a wait-and-see attitude before they let their emotional consensus form.”
Whitbourne points to research that shows that fans who care the most about their team also look at their team more objectively. They see things for what they are. When the NBA rushed to put another franchise here after the Hornets left, many fans didn’t blindly glom onto the fresh new franchise. They knew the Hornets. These guys weren’t the Hornets.
The Bobcats have never been good, but it didn’t help that they were a special kind of terrible last season—the kind of terrible that lost all but seven games, the kind that lost twenty-two games by at least a twenty-point margin. They finished with the worst winning percentage in league history. If the Charlotte Bobcats were a Bobcat, they’d be Jamario Moon.
They play in an arena that, as any duty-sworn Internet commenter will tell you, was paid for by taxpayer dollars even though it was voted down in an election. They drafted Adam Morrison. They traded Gerald Wallace. They’re hideous at covering the spread. In March, the New York Daily News ran a report about how Jordan was thinking of selling the team in a few years, only to have MJ reply by saying he was 100 percent committed, only to have former coach Sam Vincent (who was fired after one season for being as wobbly as a shopping-cart wheel) slam MJ for not really caring about the franchise. Then former coach Larry Brown ripped MJ. Jordan fired back.
They have issues.
Some people are still pissed off at Bob Johnson, the former owner who loved the fact that the Bobcats were sort of named after him. Fans didn’t like Johnson’s entitled attitude: that you should be happy to spend your hard earned money, and a lot of it, to go see the mediocre team he had created. When people by and large weren’t, he blamed businesses for not getting behind him. Many people responded to all of this by staying away from games. Last season, they finished twenty-sixth out of thirty in attendance.
Even at their best, the Bobcats squeaked into the playoffs in 2010 and promptly lost all four games in the first round. During the series, the team started games with a video montage that showed a clip from one of the Hornets’ playoff runs. The crowd roared.
So if many fans aren’t over-the-top invested in the Bobcats, why not go back to the teal and purple that Charlotteans once loved? For one thing, it takes time and money. Silver told Bonnell that a name change typically takes two years. There are signs to order and new uniforms to design and so on, and by every estimate, it costs millions of dollars. Guys like John Morgan seem to think that the cost could easily be covered by the sale of new Charlotte Hornets gear. The Hornets gear that’s out there now is still easy to find and selling well.
But no matter the uniform, these guys aren’t the Hornets.
The jerseys give you your identity, Bogues says. The colors are nice too. Thing is, he never really put too much stock into all that. Most of the things he wore during his Hornets days—warm-ups, shorts, and jerseys—are gone. One of his Hornets jerseys hangs in his dad’s barbershop. That’s about it. “It becomes just a uniform,” he says. “Those were my work clothes.”