The Charlotte Bobcats are dead.
Not the team, but the name. Well not yet, but it might as well be.
The return to the Hornets name will not become official until the end of the season, but this hasn’t stopped the team from taking advantage of the (excuse the pun) buzz surrounding the return of the purple and teal.
Michael Jordan unveiled the team’s new logo last month at halftime of the Bobcats game with the Utah Jazz and fans have been waiting for Hornets merchandise to hit the stores ever since.
That wait ended Saturday afternoon, which also happened to coincide with the Miami Heat coming to town. Fans stormed the team’s store at Time Warner Cable Arena before and after the game grabbing anything and everything with the Hornets name on it.
Yes, there are still Bobcats T-shirts, hats and other things for sale, but the majority of these items are on clearance ranks. In fact, 80 percent of the store is now decked from floor to ceiling with Charlotte Hornets gear.
The switch to the new name can’t seem to come soon enough because even during breaks in the action with the Heat, the Bobcats’ dance team was throwing Hornets shirts into the stands.
As wonderful as some fans believe it is to have the Hornets name back, the lightning in the bottle that the original team had when it first burst on the NBA stage in 1988 is no longer there.
The Hornets were the only show in town at the time and even the thought about having an NFL team in Charlotte was laughable. When the Hornets were at home, the Charlotte Coliseum was the place to be. The opponent didn’t matter because “The Hive” was full and the crowd was (again sorry for the pun) buzzing from the tip-off to the final horn.
How crazy was the city for the NBA? So nuts that the Hornets had 364 consecutive sellouts from 1988 until 1997 despite being in one of the league’s largest arenas at the time.
Then things changed and the attendance took a big drop. The NBA was no longer the “it” league as superstars like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird retired. Plus, the NFL was gaining in popularity in Charlotte especially with the Panthers moving into their new home after being in Clemson, S.C. for their initial season.
It got so bad before the team moved to New Orleans in 2002, Charlotte’s attendance figures dipped to last in the league.
Since the NBA’s return to the Queen City, tickets haven’t been the hot item they once were. The Bobcats have been anywhere from 21st to 28th in attendance and are currently 25th this season.
If there is a sliver of hope in attempting to return to the previous glory under the Hornets’ name is the team believes it set a single-day arena merchandise record Saturday. In addition, when the other NBA owners approved of the name change last summer, season-ticket sales increased slightly.
Jordan is trying to re-ignite the old NBA spark in Charlotte and pulling out all the stops in trying to do so. The best way to get people in the seats is to put a playoff-caliber team on the court every night. Until this occurs, the franchise will be stuck in the middle of the pack.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson may be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.