Part 3 – Exodus For Charlotte Hornets
In the 1999-2000 season, The Charlotte Hornets were in a bit of a rebuilding mode. Having traded away their two biggest stars in Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning over the previous years left the team without an identity. This was temporarily remedied with the signing of free agent Derrick Coleman, another bruising power forward who played his college ball at Syracuse. With the third pick in that year’s draft, the Hornets went for a point guard, Baron Davis, from UCLA.
From previous trades the starting lineup became David Wesley, Eddie Jones, Anthony Mason, Coleman and Elden Campbell, which was actually quite respectable. During this season, however, the unexpected occurred. Bobby Phills, an upcoming young guard with the Hornets was killed in a car accident. The team retired his number the next month. The team moved on, making the playoffs, but losing to the Philadelphia 76ers. In the off-season, more shuffling of the roster occurred, as Eddie Jones and Anthony Mason were traded to the Heat for Jamal Mashburn and P.J. Brown. It would mark the beginning of the end for the Hornets in Charlotte.
It was around this season where the City of Charlotte and the state’s fan base for the Hornets began to deteriorate. It was widely assumed that Shinn was tight with his wallet, which led to the trade of disgruntled All-Star Center Alonzo Mourning, as well as trading Larry Johnson to the Knicks afterwards. Shinn was responsible for creating the largest NBA contract ever at the time and was now unwilling to pay other players. Michael Jordan entered into talks to buy into and become part owner of the team which excited the fan base for a moment. In a bit of foreshadowing for the future, the deal fell apart due to Shinn not wanted to give Jordan total control over all basketball operations.
A bit of bad news also surfaced in 2000. A woman came forward with the claim that George Shinn had raped her in 1997. Shinn carefully avoided a civil lawsuit, but the damage within the community was done. Fans stopped coming, refusing to support the Hornets as long as Shinn was in charge.
During the 2000-01 season, the Hornets made it back to the playoffs and upset the Miami Heat, before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference semifinals. The next year, they returned to the conference semifinals before losing to the New Jersey Nets. But the excitement that followed the Hornets in the early nineties was all but gone. The Hornets used to be one of the hardest tickets to get in all of North America for a time in the late eighties/early nineties. Now, they were ranking near the bottom of attendance each year, a drastic difference. Shinn was blamed for the fall
Shinn had already voiced his disgust with the lack of luxury boxes in the Charlotte Coliseum, considered state of the art when built, but now an older relic compared to the newer arenas in the league. Shinn told the city of Charlotte that he was prepared to move if they didn’t receive a new arena. Shinn got his wish and the people of Charlotte got a chance to vote on the new arena. Then, Mayor Pat McCrory vetoed an ordinance that would have adjusted living wages in the city. This enraged the black population in the city who reasoned that it was immoral to build a new arena when city employees wouldn’t be able to afford to attend events there. The referendum didn’t pass.
The team got a second chance from the city however, who created a way for the arena to be built without voter support, however, one main condition was that Shinn had to sell the team. The NBA didn’t agree, thinking that it would infuriate owners in the league. Shinn began negotiations to move the team to New Orleans, and before the Hornets were eliminated from the 2001-02 playoffs, the NBA approved the move. The Charlotte Hornets were now the New Orleans Hornets. To appease the residents and city leaders of Charlotte, the NBA made a promise to Charlotte to give her a new franchise. In 2004-05 the Charlotte Bobcats, the first NBA franchise to be owned by an African-American, started in the league.
Awarded to BET founder Robert Johnson, the Bobcats began play ironically enough in the very building that Shinn wanted for the Hornets in the first place, Bobcat Arena. Now known as Time Warner Cable Arena, the facility was top-notch and built almost with a nose in the air to George Shinn in mind. Another irony was that Charlotte officials ended up implementing a hotel and leisure tax to help pay for the building, something Shinn wanted a few years earlier.
NEXT WEEK: The Hornets draft a local favorite…and take him to New Orleans….and Charlotte receives a consolation prize for losing her prized Hornets.
Missed a part? Go to www.sportscarolinamonthly.com to read all parts of The Rise and Fall of the Charlotte Hornets and thanks for reading!!!!
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