1990–2002) Western (1989–1990)
|City||Charlotte, North Carolina|
|Team colors||Teal, Purple, and White
The Charlotte Hornets was a professional American basketball team based in Charlotte, North Carolina. They played in the Atlantic, Midwest, and Central divisions of the National Basketball Association. The Hornets began play during the 1988–89 NBA season as an expansion franchise, along with the Miami Heat. Following the 2001–02 season, the team relocated to New Orleans, Louisiana, where they currently play as the New Orleans Hornets. In fourteen seasons in Charlotte, the Hornets compiled an overall record of 542–574, and qualified for the post-season seven times.
In 1985, the NBA was planning to expand by four teams. George Shinn, an entrepreneur from Kannapolis, North Carolina, wanted to bring an NBA team to the Charlotte area, and he assembled a group of prominent local businessmen to head the prospective franchise. The Charlotte area had long been a hotbed for college basketball. The Atlantic Coast Conference's four North Carolina teams, as well as local teams Charlotte, Davidson and Johnson C. Smith, have large and loyal fan bases in the city. Charlotte was also one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, and was previously one of the three in-state regional homes to the American Basketball Association's Carolina Cougars, from 1969 to 1974.
Some critics doubted that Charlotte could support an NBA team; one Sacramento Bee columnist joked, "The only franchise Charlotte is going to get is one with golden arches." However, Shinn's ace in the hole was the Charlotte Coliseum, a state-of-the-art arena under construction that would seat almost 24,000 spectators – the largest basketball-specific arena ever to serve as a full-time home for an NBA team. On April 5, 1987, NBA Commissioner David Stern called Shinn to tell him that his group had been awarded the 24th franchise of the NBA, to begin play in 1988. Franchises were also granted to Miami, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and Orlando.
Originally, the new team was going to be called the Charlotte Spirit, but a name-the-team contest yielded "Hornets" as the winning choice. The name was derived from the city's fierce resistance to British occupation during the Revolutionary War, which prompted the British commander, Lord Cornwallis, to refer to it as "a veritable nest of hornets." The name had been used for Charlotte sports teams before, including a minor league baseball team that was located in the city from 1901 to 1972, as well as a World Football League team that played there from 1974 to 1975. In addition, the Charlotte 49ers and Davidson Wildcats of the NCAA play annually for the Hornets' Nest Trophy.
The team received a lot of attention when they chose teal as their primary color, setting off a fashion craze in sports in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with many other pro and amateur clubs soon following with similar colors. Additionally, the Hornets were the first NBA team to popularize the use of pinstripes on uniforms, inspiring similar designs by the Orlando Magic, Toronto Raptors, Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers. Recently, the Charlotte Bobcats added pinstripes to their uniforms, presumably as a tribute to the Hornets' tenure in Charlotte.
Shinn hired Carl Scheer, a longtime NBA executive, as the teams first general manager. Scheer preferred a roster of veteran players, hoping to put together a competitive team as soon as possible, with a goal of making the playoffs in five years. Former college coach and veteran NBA assistant Dick Harter was also hired, becoming the team's first head coach.
In 1988, the Hornets and the Miami Heat were part of the 1988 NBA Expansion Draft. Unlike many expansion franchises that invest in the future with a team composed entirely of young players, Charlotte stocked its inaugural roster with several veterans in hopes of putting a competitive lineup on the court right away. The team also had three draft picks at the 1988 NBA Draft. 
In their inaugural season, the Hornets were led by ex-Pistons guard Kelly Tripucka, who provided instant offense and was Charlotte's top scorer for the franchise's first two seasons. Other notable players included sharpshooting rookie and first-ever draft choice Rex Chapman, a long-distance scoring threat, and floor general Muggsy Bogues, the shortest player in NBA history at 5'3". The Hornets' first NBA game took place on November 4, 1988, at the Charlotte Coliseum, and was a 133–93 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Four days later, the team notched their first-ever victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, 117–105. On December 23, 1988, the Hornets really gave their fans something to cheer about, beating Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls 103–101 at the buzzer in Jordan's first return to North Carolina as a professional. The Hornets finished their inaugural season with a record of 20 wins and 62 losses, and led the NBA in attendance (a feat they would achieve seven more times in Charlotte). Eventually, the Hornets would sell out 358 consecutive games--almost nine consecutive seasons.
The Hornets' second season was a struggle from start to finish. Members of the team rebelled against Dick Harter's defense-oriented style, and he was replaced mid-season by assistant Gene Littles following a dismal 8–32 start. Despite the change, the team continued to struggle during the second half of the season, suffering through a 3–31 stretch from January through March. In the end, the team took a step backwards, finishing the season with a disappointing 19–63 record – one game worse than their previous season.
In the 1990 NBA Draft, the Hornets selected guard Kendall Gill with the 5th overall pick. The team showed improvement during the 1990–91 season. They won eight of their first fifteen games, including a 120–105 victory over the Washington Bullets. However, the team went cold, losing their next eleven games and falling to an 8–18 record. The Hornets, who hosted the 1991 NBA All-Star Game, finished their third season with a 26–56 record. Despite the team's seven-game improvement over the previous season, however, Gene Littles was fired at the end of the season and replaced by general manager Allan Bristow.
The Hornets selected Alonzo Mourning with the 2nd overall pick of the 1992 NBA Draft; a year earlier, they selected Larry Johnson with the first overall pickWith the first pick in the 1991 NBA Draft, the Hornets drafted power forward Larry Johnson from University of Nevada Las Vegas. Johnson had an impact season, finishing among the league leaders in points and rebounds, and winning the 1992 NBA Rookie of the Year Award. Additionally, Guard Kendall Gill led the club in scoring, averaging over 20 points per game. The team stayed in contention for a playoff spot until March, but in the end, they finished the season with a record of 31–51. Despite continuing to improve, the Hornets failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
The Hornets were in the lottery again in 1992, and won the second overall pick in the draft, using it to select Georgetown center Alonzo Mourning. The Hornets now had two 20–10 threats in Johnson and Mourning, who with Kendall Gill, formed perhaps the league's top young trio. The team finished their fifth season at 44–38, their first-ever winning record and good enough for the first playoff berth in franchise history. Finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference, the Hornets upset the Boston Celtics in the first round, with Mourning winning the series with a 20-footer in game four. However, the Hornets lacked the experience and depth to defeat the New York Knicks, falling in five games in the second round.
The Hornets finished the 1993–94 season with a 41–41 record, narrowly missing the playoffs. Despite injuries to both Johnson and Mourning, the two led the team in points-per-game. The following season, the Hornets finished the regular season with 50 wins and 32 losses, and returned to the playoffs. Johnson and Mourning again led the team in points-per-game, while also leading the club in rebounding. However, Charlotte was bounced from the playoffs in the first round, falling to the Chicago Bulls in four games. Following the season, the Johnson–Mourning era would come to and end, as the Hornets traded Mourning to the Miami Heat for forward Glen Rice, center Matt Geiger, and guard Khalid Reeves.
Glen Rice would make an immediate impact after joining the Hornets, leading the team in scoring and points-per-game during the 1995–96 season. While Rice and Johnson provided high-powered scoring, Geiger tied with Johnson for the team lead in rebounds, and All-Star guard Kenny Anderson ran the point for the injured Muggsy Bogues. The Hornets were competitive, but failed to qualify for the playoffs during the season, again finishing with a 41–41 record. Head Coach Allan Bristow resigned at the end of the season, and was replaced by NBA legend Dave Cowens.
The 1996 offseason was again marked by vast changes: Anderson declined to re-sign, Johnson was shipped to the Knicks for power forward Anthony Mason, and the team made a trade on draft day 1996. They acquired center Vlade Divac from the Los Angeles Lakers for the rights to Kobe Bryant, who the Hornets picked 13th in the draft. The new-look Hornets were successful, with Divac and Geiger providing the center combination, Mason averaging a double-double, Bogues back at the point, and Rice having the finest season of his career. The team achieved the best season in its history at the time, finishing with 54 victories compared to only 28 losses, and making it back to the playoffs. Rice finishing third in the league in scoring, earning all-NBA second team honors, and was also the All-Star Game MVP, setting several scoring records. Despite the success during the regular season, the Hornets went down rather meekly to the Knicks in three straight games.
The 1997–98 season was also successful. Muggsy Bogues was traded two games into the season, and the team picked up point guard David Wesley and shooting guard Bobby Phills. With Wesley, Phills, Rice, Mason and Divac, the Hornets romped through the regular season, finishing with a 51–31 record; Rice had another good season, as he finished sixth in league scoring and earned all-NBA third team honors. The Hornets made it to back-to-back playoffs for the first time in franchise history, and advanced to the second round, only to again be stopped by the Bulls.
The 1998–99 season was turbulent. The season didn't start until February, as lockout shortened the regular season to only 50 games. Additionally, Glen Rice was traded to the Lakers for Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell, and David Cowens resigned midway through the season. He was replaced by former Celtics teammate Paul Silas, who became the franchises fifth Head Coach. The team finished the season with at 26–24 record, but failed to qualify for the playoffs.
The 1999–2000 season saw a return to prominence, with the addition of free agent Derrick Coleman, and point guard Baron Davis, the third overall draft pick. The Hornets tore through much of the season, but tragedy struck on January 12, 2000, when fan favorite and top reserve Bobby Phills was killed in an automobile accident; the Hornets retired his #13 on February 9, 2000. After finishing the regular season with a 49–33 record, the team was able to return to the playoffs, where they lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round. The season, however, was overshadowed by events off the court. The team's popularity had begun to sag due to fan discontent with owner George Shinn's personnel moves; he had reportedly traded Mourning and several other stars out of an unwillingness to pay them market value. Additionally, Michael Jordan, a North Carolina native, began negotiations to become part-owner of the team, but talks collapsed when Shinn refused to grant Jordan total control over the basketball side of the operation. Because of this, the team's attendance dropped to eleventh in the league for the season.
In the 2000–01 season, the Hornets managed to return to the playoffs, finishing the season with a 46–36 record. While they upset the third-seeded Heat in the first round and made it to the conference semifinals for just the third time in franchise history, they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games. Despite the team continuing to play well, their popularity continued to fall, with the team finishing twenty-first in the league in attendance for the season.
The Hornets returned to the playoffs the following season, finishing the regular season at 44–38. After defeating the Orlando Magic in the first round, they were upended by the New Jersey Nets in five games in the Conference Semifinals. The team finished the season twenty-ninth (last) in the league in attendance, a stark contrast to their earlier years in Charlotte. Before the Hornets were eliminated from the playoffs, the NBA approved a deal for the team to move to New Orleans following the season. As part of a deal, the NBA promised that Charlotte would receive a new team in time for the 2004–05 season.
The Hornets began playing at the New Orleans Arena after moving to New Orleans in 2002.While the Hornets continued to put a competitive team on the court, the team's attendance fell dramatically, in large part because Shinn had become a pariah in the city. In 1997, a Charlotte woman claimed that Shinn had raped her, and the resulting trial severely tarnished his reputation in the city. The consensus was that while Charlotte was as basketball-crazy as ever, fans took out their anger at Shinn on the team. Shinn had also become discontented with the Coliseum. Although it had been considered state-of-the-art when it opened, it was now considered obsolete due to a limited number of luxury boxes. On March 26, 2001, both the Hornets and the Vancouver Grizzlies applied for relocation to Memphis, Tennessee. The Grizzlies would eventually get the move. Eventually, Shinn issued an ultimatum: unless the city built a new arena at no cost to him, the Hornets would leave town. The city initially refused, leading Shinn to consider moving the team to either Norfolk, Louisville, St. Louis, or Memphis. Of the cities in the running, only St. Louis was a larger media market than Charlotte at the time.
Finally, a new arena in Uptown (what would eventually become the Charlotte Bobcats Arena, later the Time Warner Cable Arena) was included in a non-binding referendum for a larger arts-related package, and Shinn withdrew his application to move the team. Polls showed the referendum on its way to passage. However, just days before the referendum, Mayor Pat McCrory vetoed a living wage ordinance. The veto prompted many of the city's black ministers to oppose the referendum; they felt it was immoral for the city to build a new arena when city employees weren't paid enough to make a living. After the failed referendum, city leaders devised a plan to build a new arena in a way that did not require voter support, but made it known that they would not even consider building it unless Shinn sold the team. While even the NBA acknowledged that Shinn had alienated fans, league officials felt such a demand would anger other owners. The city council refused to remove the statement, leading the Hornets to request a move to New Orleans. Although New Orleans was a smaller television market, a deal was quickly made to play at the New Orleans Arena, next door to the Louisiana Superdome. Before the Hornets were eliminated from the playoffs, the NBA approved the deal. As part of a deal, the NBA promised that Charlotte would get a new team (which took the court two years later as the Charlotte Bobcats).
In a 2008 interview with the Charlotte Observer, Shinn (who has not returned to Charlotte since the Hornets moved) admitted that the "bad judgment I made in my life" played a role in the Hornets' departure. He also said that if he had it to do all over again, he would not have withdrawn from the public after the sexual assault trial. Shinn emphasized how he was making amends by committing to New Orleans saying, "I've made enough mistakes in my life. I'm not going to make one here. This city needs us here. We're going to make this (New Orleans) thing work."
The Hornets completed fourteen seasons in Charlotte; they qualified for the post-season seven times, and had only four losing seasons. Following the 2001–02 season, the team relocated to New Orleans.
|League Champions||Conference Champions||Division Champions||Playoff Berth|
|Charlotte Hornets regular season record||522||546||.489|
|Charlotte Hornets post-season record||20||28||.417|
|All-time regular and post-season record||542||574||.486|
- Larry Johnson, F, 1991–1996
- Alonzo Mourning, C, 1992–1995
- Glen Rice, G/F, 1995–1998
- Baron Davis, G, 1999–2002
- Kelly Tripucka, F, 1988–1991
- Dell Curry, G/F, 1988–1998
- Muggsy Bogues, G, 1988–1997
- Rex Chapman, G, 1988–1992
- Robert Parish (played for the Hornets from 1994–96)
- Larry Johnson – 1992
- Dell Curry – 1994
- Glen Rice – 1997
- Larry Johnson – 1993
- Glen Rice – 1997
- Anthony Mason – 1997
- Eddie Jones – 1999, 2000
- P.J. Brown – 2001
- Bob Bass – 1997
=== Retired numbers===
- 13 Bobby Phills, G, 1997–2000