I was walking around the UNC Charlotte campus the first week of the semester gazing at student after student sporting Charlotte Hornets gear (yes, the sports franchise that hasn’t existed in over a decade). I was as much nostalgic as I was confused.
So I decided to go on a mission. It was an hour and a half before my next class, and I wanted to see if I could find a single student wearing an article of Charlotte Bobcats attire. I walked counter-clockwise around the campus from the Student Union to the Cone Center to Storrs to Fretwell then back to the Student Union.
No luck. I managed to run into a handful more students with Charlotte Hornets tees and snap back hats, but no Bobcats merchandise. Somehow I wasn’t at all surprised. And that is in no way me bashing the Bobcats, despite the recent 18-game losing streak. I support any sports team that calls Charlotte home.
But maybe one reason attendance and merchandise sales for the Bobcats is at an all-time low for an NBA team is because we don’t connect the Bobcats to the city’s identity. And it’s not just about nostalgia for “the good ol’ days.” It’s that it seems as if the Queen City that would rather pave over its history than embrace it.
For many Charlotteans, myself included, the Charlotte Hornets have played an important role in our lives. Even the sight of Hugo the Hornet (the team’s mascot) brings back memories from my childhood.
Every time my dad could find affordable tickets, he’d take me, my brother and any friends who could fit in my dad’s truck to most home games. We’d sport our teal and purple tees. And if we didn’t go to the game with a Hugo the Hornet shirt or hat, we’d certainly leave with one.
Even for someone who wasn’t a huge sports fan, going to those games was something I looked forward to the most. I was a part of the hive. I felt a sense of community with the city and it cultivated a sense of wonderment in me for the history of Charlotte.
The Hornets’ name originated from the city’s resistance to British occupation during the Revolutionary War, prompting the British commander Lord Cornwallis to refer to it as “a veritable nest of hornets.”
The nickname stuck. Charlotte is still commonly referred to as the Hornet’s Nest. There are hornets nests on the city police badges and even most police cars. The history is extensive, so it should come to no surprise that the New Orleans Hornets were as equally discontent with the franchise moving to their city.
The new owner Tom Benson has been dissatisfied with New Orleans’ use of the Hornets name since the very beginning, citing no cultural connection as his biggest objection. So starting later this year, New Orleans will begin playing as the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2013-2014 season.
With the Hornets name up for grabs, Charlotte is left with a $3 million decision to invest in an all-across-the-board rebranding or allow to the Bobcats franchise to rot in Charlotte. $3 million might not seem like a lot until you compare it to the $125 million that was approved earlier this week for renovations to the Carolina Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium.
To me the choice is simple: rebrand the franchise and bring back the sense of identity to the team that has been absent for years. The ends justify the economic means.
And I’m not the only one who feels this way. The movement has continued to grow inside and outside the Queen City who want to restitch Hugo back into the fabric of Charlotte.
Last year, John Morgan, Scotty Kent and Evan Kent organized two “Swarm Time Warner” events where Hornets fans dressed in throwback attire and flooded on section of Time Warner to gain media attention and vocalize the desire for the rebranding.
The third Swarm Time Warner will take place this Saturday, where fans will once again demonstrate their passion.
Still, a recent conversation with a few peers presented a sense of indifference to the prospect of Charlotte Hornets 2.0.
“Rebranding won’t make us win more games,” was a less colorful version of one peer’s objection.
“It won’t be the same as it was ten years ago,” said another.
Both had valid points. And it was easy to see where they were coming from. But there is a reason why so many Charlotte residents have jumped on the buzzwagon.
Bringing the franchise back to Charlotte would respark the energy that the Bobcats never garnered and in turn create a sustainable future for the team.