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1985-1987: Birth of the Charlotte Hornets In 1985, the NBA announced plans to expand by four teams. George Shinn, an entrepreneur from Charlotte, North Carolina, announced plans to bring an NBA team to the Charlotte area. He assembled a group of prominent local businessmen to head the prospective franchise.
Charlotte had long been a hotbed for college basketball, home to the Charlotte 49ers, Davidson Wildcats, and the large and loyal alumni and fan bases from the four North Carolina schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Charlotte was also one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. It had also previously been home to the American Basketball Association's Carolina Cougars, from 1969 to 1974.
However, some critics still doubted Charlotte could support an NBA team. In fact, 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 officially become the 24th member of the NBA, to begin play in 1988. Franchises were also granted to Miami (the Heat), Minneapolis-Saint Paul (the Timberwolves) and Orlando (the Magic).
Originally, the new team was to be named the Charlotte Spirit, but another name-the-team contest yielded "Hornets" as the winning choice. The name derived from the city's fierce resistance to British occupation during the Revolutionary War, which prompted Lord General Cornwallis to refer to it as "a veritable nest of hornets." The name had been used for Charlotte teams before; the city's minor league baseball teams had been called the Hornets from 1901 to 1972; there was a short-lived team in the short-lived World Football League; and NCAA basketball's Charlotte 49ers and Davidson Wildcats 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-early 90s. The San Jose Sharks, Jacksonville Jaguars, Florida Marlins, and other pro and amateur clubs soon followed with similar colors. Even the Detroit Pistons briefly switched to teal, away from their traditional blue and red, in the mid 90s. The Grizzlies also used it as their primary color during their days in Vancouver.
Despite some concerns that the new Coliseum was too big, Shinn thought that the area's long-standing support of college basketball would easily transfer to the Hornets. These hopes were more than validated as the city and region fell in a state of unbridled love with the team. After initially selling 15,000 season tickets, sales exploded and the team eventually capped the season ticket base at 21,000. Hornets tickets were among the toughest tickets in North America; for example, they once sold out 358 consecutive games—the equivalent of almost nine consecutive seasons.
Shinn hired Carl Scheer, a longtime NBA executive, as general manager. Scheer decided to put together a roster of veteran players in hopes of putting together a competitive team as soon as possible, with a view toward making the playoffs in five years. Former college coach and veteran NBA assistant Dick Harter was tapped as the team's first head coach.
1988-1992: Growing Pains
The 1988-89 team was led by ex-Pistons guard Kelly Tripucka, who provided instant offense. Tripucka was Charlotte's top scorer for the franchise's first two seasons. The team also had sharpshooting rookie - and first-ever draft choice - Rex Chapman, who was a long-distance scoring threat. The team's floor general was Muggsy Bogues, the shortest player in NBA history. However, as is typical for most NBA expansion teams, the Hornets struggled, finishing with a 20-62 record—never winning more than two games in a row.
The 1989-90 season was a struggle from start to finish. Harter was fired in January after the players rebelled against his defense-oriented style. He was replaced with assistant Gene Littles. A 3-31 stretch from January through March ended any hopes for the Hornets, who finished 19-63.
For the 1990-91 season, the team picked up guard Kendall Gill in the NBA Draft, and got slightly better, but still managed to win the draft lottery and the rights to the number one overall pick in the following year's draft. The Hornets also hosted the All-Star Game. Littles was fired at the end of the season and replaced by general manager Allan Bristow.
Charlotte Hornets logo, 1988-2002. Differences from the current logo include motion lines around the hornet, Charlotte across its chest, the purple color of the "H" on the chest, the name around it, and the ball being a darker shade of orange.For the 1991-92 season, the Hornets drafted power forward Larry Johnson from UNLV with the number one overall pick. Johnson had an impact season, finishing among league leaders in points and rebounds, and winning the 1992 NBA Rookie of the Year Award. Kendall Gill led the club in scoring, with over 20 points per game. The team stayed in contention for a playoff spot until March.
1992-1999: Rise to Prominence In 1992-93, the team won the second 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 Gill formed perhaps the league's top young trio. It was good enough for the team's first-ever winning record, at 44-38, and the first playoff berth in franchise history. They finished fifth in the Eastern Conference and upset the Boston Celtics in the first round. Mourning won the series with a 20-footer in game four. However, they lacked the experience and depth to defeat the New York Knicks.
The next few years were marked by injuries to Johnson and Mourning, though they did get back to the playoffs in 1994-95, notching the first 50-win season in franchise history—only to be beaten by the Chicago Bulls.
In the offseason the team dealt Mourning to the Miami Heat for guard Glen Rice and center Matt Geiger and guard Khalid Reeves. Geiger and Johnson tied for the team lead in rebounds, while Johnson and Rice provided balanced but high-powered scoring, with all-star guard Kenny Anderson running the point for the injured Muggsy Bogues. Despite the changes, the Hornets failed to qualify for the playoffs during the 1995-96 season. Bristow resigned at the end of the season and was replaced by NBA legend Dave Cowens.
The offseason was again marked by vast changes: Anderson declined to re-sign, Johnson was shipped to the Knicks for power forward Anthony Mason, and center Vlade Divac was acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers for the 13th pick in the draft(Kobe Bryant). The new-look Hornets were apparently even better, with Divac and Geiger providing the center combo, Mason averaging a double-double and all-NBA third team honors, Bogues back at the point, and Rice having the finest season of his career, finishing third in the league in scoring and earning all-NBA second team honors. Rice was also the All-Star game MVP, setting several scoring records. The team also sported the second best season in their history to date (54 victories), making it back to the playoffs. However, they went down rather meekly to the Knicks in three straight games.
1997-98 was also successful. The team picked up a new free-agent backcourt in point guard David Wesley and shooting guard Bobby Phills. With Wesley, Phills, Rice, Mason and Divac, the Hornets romped through the regular season, with Rice finishing sixth in scoring and earning all-NBA third team honors and the team making it all the way to the second round of the playoffs for the second time in franchise history, again being stopped by the Bulls. 1998-99 was also turbulent, with Rice being traded to the Lakers for Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell. Cowens resigned midway through the lockout-shortened season, and was replaced by former Celtics teammate Paul Silas.
1999-2002: End of an Era
1999-2000 was a return to prominence, with the addition of free agent Derrick Coleman and third overall draft pick, point guard Baron Davis. The lineup of Wesley, Jones, Mason, Coleman and Campbell tore through much of the season, but on January 12, 2000 Bobby Phills was killed in an automobile accident. His number was retired on February 9. The team returned to the playoffs, where they succumbed to the Philadelphia 76ers. Jones led the league in steals, but in the offseason he and Mason were shipped to the Heat in exchange for Jamal Mashburn and P.J. Brown.
The season, however, was overshadowed by events off the court. The team's popularity had begun to sag due to fan discontent with Shinn's personnel moves; he had reportedly traded Mourning and several other stars out of an unwillingness to pay them market value. 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.
However, the event that generated the most headlines came when a woman claimed that Shinn had raped her in 1997. While he was able to fend off a civil suit, the trial severely tarnished his reputation in the city. The team's attendance dropped off even further and never recovered; the consensus was that while Charlotte was as basketball-crazy as ever, fans took out their anger at Shinn on the team.
In 2000-01 the Hornets, with the lineup of Davis, Wesley, Mashburn, Brown and Campbell made it back to the playoffs, where they upset the third-seeded Heat and made it to the conference semifinals for the third time in franchise history, before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games. They returned the following season by beating the Orlando Magic, but were upended by the New Jersey Nets. Many thought this was because of Jamal Mashburn missing the playoffs.
While the Hornets continued to put a competitive team on the court, the team's attendance fell dramatically, in large part because Shinn was now a pariah in the city. For much of the early part of the 21st century, the Hornets ranked at or near the bottom of the league in attendance—a marked contrast to their first years in the league.
Shinn had become increasingly discontented with the Coliseum, which had a limited number of luxury boxes. He finally 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. It should be noted that of the four cities, 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 (now known as Time Warner Cable Arena)) was included in a nonbinding 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 couldn't afford to make a living.
After the failed referendum, city leaders then devised a way to build a new arena in a way that didn't require voter support, but let it be 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 owners. The city council refused to remove the statement, leading the Hornets to seriously consider 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 with the city, the NBA promised that Charlotte would get a new team, which took the court two years later as the Charlotte Bobcats.
2002-2004: NBA Returns to the Big Easy
The Hornets opened their inaugural season in New Orleans on October 30, 2002, against the Utah Jazz, who were originally in New Orleans and called the New Orleans Jazz, with a 100-75 win; "Pistol" Pete Maravich had his number posthumously retired during halftime. It was the first regular season NBA game played in New Orleans in over 17 years(there were a few exhibition games played through the years including the then Charlotte Hornets in New Orleans in 2000). They qualified for the playoffs for the fourth straight year in 2002-03, but were beaten by Philadelphia again. Jamal Mashburn also missed most of these playoffs. There was some concern at first about sluggish ticket sales; the Hornets were only able to sell 11,000 season tickets. However, Shinn remained committed to the area.
After the season, the team unexpectedly fired Silas. He was replaced by Tim Floyd. The Hornets got off to a 17-7 start, but sputtered at the end and finished 41-41, narrowly missing out on home court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. They played the Miami Heat in the first round, but Dwyane Wade's last second shot sunk the Hornets in Game One of the series. The teams ended up winning all their respective home games after that, but Wade's shot was the difference as the Heat won 4-3.
2004-2005: Early Struggles in the West
After the season, Floyd was fired and the team hired Byron Scott to be their head coach. Because of the expansion, the Hornets were now forced to play in the Southwest Division of the Western Conference which included four playoff teams in the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, and Memphis Grizzlies. The team was not expected to compete for a playoff spot with such tough competition. In a season marred by injury to the team's three all-stars (Baron Davis, Jamaal Magloire, and Jamal Mashburn) an 0-8 start quickly became a 2-29 record (including a one-point loss in overtime to their replacements, the expansion Charlotte Bobcats, in the team's first game back in Charlotte since relocating). This started a watch of how bad their record could get, threatening the Philadelphia 76ers' record of a 9-73 season. The team performed better in January and February with the emerging play of fan favorite Dan Dickau, but the season was essentially over before it started with the horrendous start. As a result of the lack of success, the team's roster was reshaped, with older veterans Baron Davis and Jamal Mashburn traded to facilitate a rebuilding process. The team found stronger support for their younger, scrappier players than they did the previous year. They also acquired Jimmy Jackson from the Houston Rockets, but Jackson never reported to the team (which surprisingly was supported by leading NBA analysts on radio shows and TV networks) and was traded again, this time to the Phoenix Suns for Maciej Lampe, Casey Jacobsen, and Jackson Vroman, none of whom made a significant impact. The Hornets finished 18-64—tied for the second-worst record in the league, and the franchise's first losing season in 15 years. They were initially in the NBA draft lottery when their pick slid to fourth. Despite the bad luck, the Hornets got their man in Chris Paul.
2005-2007: Hurricane Katrina and Oklahoma City
Due to the catastrophic devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina upon the communities of southeastern Louisiana, the New Orleans Hornets temporarily relocated their base of operations to Oklahoma City from 2005-2007. In these 2 seasons, they played a split schedule, with home games at the Ford Center and the New Orleans Arena. Their practice facility while in Oklahoma City was the Sawyer Center on the campus of Southern Nazarene University (SNU), and the team held its 2006 training camp at their New Orleans practice facility, the Alario Center, in Westwego, Louisiana.
For the 2005-06 season, the team played 36 games in Oklahoma City, with one game taking place at the Lloyd Noble Center on the campus of the University of Oklahoma due to a conflict at the Ford Center; three in New Orleans; and one at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on the campus of LSU. The intent had been to play 5 games in all at Baton Rouge, but strong progress made on restoring the New Orleans Arena made the return to New Orleans a better option.
The Hornets started off the 2005-06 NBA season better than expected, but did not make the playoffs. When Chris Andersen was kicked out of the league for two years due to a drug violation, it seemed to spark the Hornets to a hot streak, vaulting the team briefly into the sixth seed in the West. Eventually, however, the Hornets went cold, losing 12 out of 13 games to drop out of the playoff race, setting an ignominious NBA record in the process when they scored 16 points in the second half of a game in Los Angeles versus the Clippers. The Hornets rebounded to make one final push at the end of the season for a playoff spot, but last second losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Utah Jazz sank those hopes, and the team finished 38-44, 10th place in the Western Conference and 6 games out of a playoff spot. Despite the losing record, the season was a success. Chris Paul won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award in a landslide, and several Hornets were also in the running for other individual awards.
On June 28, the New Orleans Hornets selected Hilton Armstrong and Cedric Simmons in the first round of the 2006 NBA Draft. They also selected Marcus Vinicius from Brazil in the 2nd round.
Shinn and the NBA brass decided to stay in Oklahoma City another year because the area had not fully recovered. The Hornets opted to keep their base of operations in Oklahoma City for the 2006-07 season, but had promised to return to New Orleans full time, possibly as early as 2007.
The Hornets made major roster changes after the 2005-2006 season in hopes of advancing to the Western Conference postseason for the first time ever. They traded J.R. Smith and P.J. Brown to the Chicago Bulls for Tyson Chandler. They let Speedy Claxton sign with the Atlanta Hawks, but filled their backup PG position with free agents Bobby Jackson and Jannero Pargo. They also inked Peja Stojakovic from the Indiana Pacers.
The Hornets played 35 home games in Oklahoma City and 6 in New Orleans during the season. Due to substantial injuries, the team finished the regular season with a 39-43 record, one more win than the 2005-2006 season.
It should be noted that the team's tenure in Oklahoma City was successful financially, and it boosted the team's attendance record.
2007–present: March Back to the Big Easy
Personnel-wise, the Hornets stood largely pat heading into the 2007-2008 season. They did however sign free agents Morris Peterson and Melvin Ely, while letting go of former first round draft pick Cedric Simmons. Further, the club extended the contract of reserve guard Jannero Pargo, and selected Kansas forward Julian Wright with the 13th pick in the 2007 NBA Draft.
Healthier than previous seasons, the Hornets stormed to a 29-12 record at the halfway mark. Having the best record in the Western Conference on February 3 meant that Byron Scott would coach the 2008 Western Conference All-Stars at home in the New Orleans Arena. Scott was joined by two of his players, as both Chris Paul and David West were selected as All-Star reserves. Chris Paul was nominated for NBA MVP 2008 and placed 2nd in voting. On February 21 the Hornets made an in-season trade with the Houston Rockets acquiring swingman Bonzi Wells and backup point guard Mike James for veteran guard Bobby Jackson.
The Hornets completed the regular season with a record of 56-26, marking the season the most successful ever in terms of number of wins. The Hornets also won their first ever division title, winning the Southwest Division ahead of the San Antonio Spurs. Having clinched the 2nd overall seed for the Western Conference, the Hornets beat the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. The Hornets posted decisive wins against the 3rd seed San Antonio Spurs in the first two games of their first ever Western Conference Semi-finals since the move to New Orleans, but eventually lost to the defending champion Spurs 3 games to 4 in a tightly contested series
- Pete Maravich (7)
- Bobby Phills (13)
|Dick Harter||1988||1990||28||94||--||--||8-32 for 1989-90 season; Final game on January 27, 1990|
|Gene Littles||1990||1991||37||87||--||--||11-31 for 1989-90 season after firing of Dick Harter|
|Allan Bristow||1991||1996||207||203||5||8||Earned first playoff berth and playoff series win in franchise history|
|Dave Cowens||1996||1999||109||70||4||8||4-11 for 1998-99 season; Final game on March 5, 1999|
|Paul Silas||1999||2003||208||155||13||14||22-13 for 1998-99 season after firing of Dave Cowens|
- Dell Curry - 1994
- Glen Rice - 1997
- Byron Scott - 2008
- Bob Bass - 1997
Rookie of the Year
- Larry Johnson - 1992
- Chris Paul - 2006
Record Per Season
|League Champions||Conference Champions||Division Champions||Playoff Berth|
|Season||League||Conference||Division||Regular season||Post Season Results||Awards|
|1991-92||NBA||Eastern||Central||6th||31||51||.378||Larry Johnson (ROY)|
|1992-93||NBA||Eastern||Central||3rd||44||38||.537|| Won First Round (Boston) 3-1 |
Lost Conference Semifinals (New York) 4-1
|1993-94||NBA||Eastern||Central||5th||41||41||.500||Dell Curry (6MOY)|
|1994-95||NBA||Eastern||Central||2nd||50||32||.610||Lost First Round (Chicago) 3-1|
|1996-97||NBA||Eastern||Central||3rd||54||28||.659||Lost First Round (New York) 3-0|| Glen Rice (ASG MVP)|
Bob Bass (EOY)
|1997-98||NBA||Eastern||Central||3rd||51||31||.622|| Won First Round (Atlanta) 3-1|
Lost Conference Semifinals (Chicago) 4-1
|1999–2000||NBA||Eastern||Central||2nd||49||33||.598||Lost First Round (Philadelphia) 3-1|
|2000-01||NBA||Eastern||Central||3rd||46||36||.561|| Won First Round (Miami) 3-0|
Lost Conference Semifinals (Milwaukee) 4-3
|2001-02||NBA||Eastern||Central||2nd||44||38||.537|| Won First Round (Orlando) 3-1|
Lost Conference Semifinals (New Jersey) 4-1
|New Orleans Hornets|
|2002-03||NBA||Eastern||Central||3rd||47||35||.573||Lost First Round (Philadelphia) 4-2|
|2003-04||NBA||Eastern||Central||3rd||41||41||.500||Lost First Round (Miami) 4-3|
|New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets|
|2005-06||NBA||Western||Southwest||4th||38||44||.463||Chris Paul (ROY)|
|New Orleans Hornets|
|2007-08||NBA||Western||Southwest||1st||56||26||.683||First Round (Dallas) 2-0||Byron Scott (ASG Coach)|
All Time Records
Single Season Records
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