The Traumatizing Tale of Growing up a Hornets Fan
From a magical night in December of 2008, to a franchise-altering night in November of 2020, and a whole of dreadful nights in between, being a Charlotte Hornets fan has not been easy. But for the first time in over a decade, there are signs pointing to a prosperous future in Buzz City.
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421-572. 421 wins. 572 losses. That’s the record of the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets since I became a fan on December 27, 2008. Fast-math calculates that to a winning percentage of 42%. Honestly, that’s better than I expected it to be. Thirteen years, four playoffs and a checkered lottery history later, and the franchise might finally be on the precipice of contending.
I have been a Lakers fan since I started watching basketball in the late-late 1990’s and early-early 2000’s. I’m not old enough to have watched Michael Jordan pre-Wizards, but I am old enough to have watched prime Kobe Bryant on the Lakers. Watching him and Shaq annihilate teams with a lethal combo of elbow-jumpers and alley-oops. Kobe’s mindset and borderline psychotic obsession with winning made me a Lakers fan, and I have remained loyal to the purple & gold ever since. However, on December 27, 2008 there was a second team that entered my heart; the Charlotte Bobcats.
In 2008 I went down to Charlotte to visit some family down there during Christmas break, which also happened to include my birthday (December 27th). While there, I was shocked to get tickets to the Bobcats game against the Nets on my birthday! I was so excited, ready to experience my first NBA game live. But my expectations could not have possibly lived up to the reality of that night.
When we arrived at the arena, it was clear that my cousin (who worked Time Warner, the company who owned the Bobcats arena) had pulled some strings. I got to meet all the cheerleaders and get my picture taken with them (which 18 year-old me would have been disgusted with how 13 year-old me didn’t appreciate that more). Then we went to our seats in one of the premiere sections of the arena, one that had our own restaurant and bar. And to cap off the pageantry, one of the team executives came to me during the third quarter and personally wished me a happy birthday while handing me an autographed jersey from Emeka Okafor, the best player on the Bobcats. As a newly minted 13 year-old basketball fanatic, I nearly fainted. I couldn’t believe this was really happening! It was that night that I split my fandom like Voldemort and horcruxes, pledging my allegiance to two NBA franchises. I just didn’t realize how much pain that would entail.
Being a Lakers fan has been a blessed experience. Since I’ve been rooting for the Lakers, I have experienced six titles, three legends and one Mamba. Being a Hornets fan? I’ve experienced four trips to the playoffs, a handful of decent players and the worst single-season winning percentage of all-time. Yeesh.
While the night of December 27, 2008 was magical for so many reasons, I should have known my fandom was cursed when the Nets beat the Bobcats in overtime, 114-103. Granted they had Vince Carter and Jason Kidd while we had Emeka Okafor and DJ Augustin, but still. The first of many, many losses (572, to be exact).
In 2010, the Bobcats made the playoffs for the first time since returning as an NBA franchise in 2004-05. Their reward? Getting obliterated by Dwight Howard and the Magic in the first round 4-0. Led by Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace, they never had much of a shot against Orlando, but it was fun to finally be watching playoff basketball in Charlotte.
After a mediocre 2010-11 season, the bottom fell out. During the lockout season of 2011-12, the Bobcats weren’t just bad. They were atrocious. Historically bad. So bad, in fact, that they set the record for the worst single-season winning percentage in NBA history at just 11% (rounded up! With a record of 7-59). But believe it or not, that notorious distinction was not the worst part of that season. There was a generational talent playing college basketball in Lexington that season, and the Bobcats had the inside track to landing the #1 pick. But the ping-pong balls decided that the worst team ever didn’t deserve the first pick, so we walked out of the lottery with the second. Now I’m not delusional, I am aware that Anthony Davis would have left Charlotte eventually, just like he left New Orleans. I know that. But dammit what I wouldn’t have given to watch the Brow turn into a superstar for seven seasons rather than watching Michael Kidd-Gilchrist turning into a dinosaur. I actually like MKG more than most, he’s a great defender and he’s long. But so is Davis, as well as a potential pantheon-level player. Despite all the losses over the past thirteen years, losing that lottery was by far the worst.
Not only would having Davis meant more wins but it would have meant that Charlotte had a fun player. Even during the dark days of Smush Parker, the Lakers had Kobe which meant they were fun to watch. If you’re going to be bad, you need to be fun. The Bobcats/Hornets have never really been a fun team to watch. Whether it was getting blown to smithereens by the Heat in the 2014 playoffs, or in 2016 when they made the playoffs and had a 3-2 lead on the Heat (before blowing game 6 at home and losing a road game 7), they weren’t all that fun. Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker are the two best players I have rooted for in Charlotte, and neither was particularly aesthetically pleasing. Jefferson was a 1990’s dinosaur who didn’t leave the paint, and Kemba was an under-sized guard who couldn’t create in crunch time. From watching players like DJ Augustin and Raymond Felton, to Nicholas Batum and Marvin Williams, the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets have been emotionally draining; a toxic relationship I just couldn’t leave. But on November 18, 2020 the fortunes of the franchise seemed to change.
Finally! Some lottery luck. Jumping up to third meant we would get either James Wiseman, Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball. Nightly prayers to the basketball Gods were answered, as the Hornets took the Chino Hills/Australia point guard, and there was a “buzz” in the franchise. We finally got a player that was fun! Did I think we would be good? Absolutely not. I genuinely believed we would be the worst team in the league this year. I also believed that Ball would be must-see television, from no-look dimes to pulling up from the logo, LaMelo would be a Frankenstienien compilation of Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Lonzo Ball and the Tasmanian Devil from Space Jam. Turns out I was right about Melo, and wrong about the team. Led by a washed up Celtic and a rookie, the 2021 Hornets find themselves in the play-in tournament.
The Charlotte Hornets are not a free-agent destination. We’ve signed an aging Al Jefferson, a complacent Nic Batum and an injury-plagued Gordon Hayward. LeBron James never even gave them a first thought in his free agency, nevermind a second thought. The only way we could ever be relevant is by building through the draft, and Ball is that first step.
Do I think they’ll win a title anytime soon? No. Do I think we’re on the road to contention in the east? Absolutely. For the first time since that fateful night in December of 2008, there is hope in Charlotte.