On May 20, 2014, Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Bobcats’ front office announced that the team will change their name back to the Hornets next season. This news is a boon for many basketball fans in Charlotte who could do nothing to stop the original Hornets from leaving town. After the 2001-2002 season, the Hornets moved to New Orleans, where they remained until changing their name to the Pelicans before the start of the 2013-2014 season. After Charlotte lost its team, Michael Jordan, in 2004, brought a NBA team back to the city and state with the Charlotte Bobcats. Until recently, though, the Bobcats did not have much success, finishing at the bottom, or near it, of the Eastern Conference in consecutive seasons. Not only is the team changing its name back to the Hornets, but it will also retain all of the original Hornets’ records, which should make the return feel more complete.
From 1988-2001, the Charlotte Hornets played well in the Eastern Conference, a league that was glutted with powerhouses—from the New York Knicks to the Detroit Pistons to the Chicago Bulls to the then-aging Boston Celtics. Like any incipient franchise, the team struggled at first, as Kelly Tripucka and Rex Chapman led an otherwise anemic offense. The high point from that season, incidentally, was when they defeated the Chicago Bulls—Michael Jordan’s squad, but you already knew that—with a last-second shot. After drafting top-notch rookies for several years, the team secured a playoff spot in the early 90s with a talented core of players—namely, Kendall Gill, Alonzo Mourning, and Larry Johnson. Internecine conflict and injuries derailed that team, which looked like it was on the cusp of taking control of the Eastern Conference. After several trades, the team ended up with one of the league’s best scorers in Glen Rice, who put the team on his back in the 1996-1997 season. Despite the front office’s ability to draft and trade well, always securing quality players in return for the players they shipped out, playoff success eluded the Hornets. By their last year in Charlotte, the Hornets had never made the Conference Finals.
If nothing else, this name change should reinvigorate the team and its fans. Indeed, in spite of the Hornets’ lack of playoff success in Charlotte, the name still brings back fond memories not only of on-court success, but of team’s unique style. During their years in Charlotte, the Hornets had one of the coolest-looking courts, and the uniforms were undeniably fresh. As Jay-Z says, “I guess I got my swagger back!”
In celebration of the Hornets’ return to Charlotte, this list looks at the ten greatest Charlotte Hornets in franchise history. A note about rankings: this list does not consider New Orleans Hornets (sorry, Chris Paul). It has been a tough task to narrow the list down to ten, and several fan-favourites have been left off—namely, Vlade Divac and Derrick Coleman. Let us know your favourite Hornets! Enjoy…
10. Anthony Mason
Most NBA fans remember Anthony Mason from his years on the New York Knicks, when that squad was a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference and annually engaged in some of the toughest playoff series fans have ever seen. In the 1996 offseason, Mason was traded the Charlotte Hornets, where he enjoyed the best statistical years of his career. In two of his three seasons with the Hornets, Mason averaged a double-double in points and rebounds. 1996-1997 was his best season with the franchise, as he averaged 16.2 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game. Shooting over 52% from the floor.
9. Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues
At 5’3, Muggsy Bogues is the shortest player to ever play in the NBA. His best years were in Charlotte, where he led the squad from its inaugural year to the beginning of the 1997-1998 season, when he was traded two games in to the season. Bogues’ numbers will not jump out at anyone, and they seem rather pedestrian, but he was a master of ball control, always putting up great assists-to-turnover ratios and enabling the players around him to flourish. In the 1993-1994 season, Bogues averaged a double-double in points and assists. For his career, he averaged 7.7 points and 7.6 assists per game, but only 1.6 turnovers, a stat that illustrates his value. Of course, the downside to Bogues was always the same: he was a defensive liability due to his size.
8. Eddie Jones
This pick might surprise some fans, since Eddie Jones only played one and a half seasons for the Hornets, but he had the best season of his career in Charlotte. After coming over from the Lakers during the lockout-shortened season, Jones, in 1999-2000, averaged 20.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 2.7 steals per game. As a result of his stellar numbers, Jones made the All-Star Game for the third and last time in his career. That Hornets team made the playoffs but fell to the Allen Iverson-led Philadelphia 76ers in the first round in 4 games. Jones jilted Charlotte for Miami in the offseason.
7. Rex Chapman
Alongside Kelly Tripucka, Rex Chapman was one of the few bright spots for the inaugural Hornets. The Hornets drafted him 8th overall out of the University of Kentucky in 1988, and he had a good rookie season, making the All-Rookie Second Team and averaging 16.9 points per game. He had his best statistical season in Charlotte the following year, averaging 17.5 points per game, though he only appeared in 54 games. Unfortunately, the team never amounted to much when Chapman was there; he was never a game-changing type of player.
6. Kelly Tripucka
Kelly Tripucka joined the inaugural Hornets in the final years of his career. The Detroit Pistons drafted him 12th overall out of the University of Notre Dame in the 1981 NBA Draft, and he stayed in Detroit for five seasons before moving to Utah, and then to Charlotte. He was the Hornets’ biggest offensive threat during their inaugural season, as he averaged 22.6 points and 3.6 assists per game, shooting over 46% from the field. His production dropped each year with the Hornets, and in his last season (1990-1991), he appeared in 77 games but only started one game.
5. Baron Davis
In his three seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, before the team mercilessly left for New Orleans, Baron Davis brought a good deal of energy to the squad, and he was one of the league most electrifying young guards. The Hornets drafted him 3rd overall out of UCLA in the 1999 NBA Draft. After a shaky rookie season, he became one of the team’s best, pairing nicely with Derrick Coleman. In the 2001-2002 season, Baron Davis averaged 18.1 points, 8.5 assists, and 2.1 steals per game, making his first All-Star Game. Aside from his on-court success with the Charlotte Hornets, Davis made one of the most indelible memories from the Dunk Contest in 2001, as he blindfolded himself, charged at the basket, jumped for the dunk, but he misjudged the distance and tried to dunk the ball five feet short of the basket; it brought levity to the Dunk Contest and made for great comedic fodder.
4. Kendall Gill
The Charlotte Hornets drafted Kendall Gill 5th overall out of University of Illinois in the 1990 NBA Draft, and he quickly made an impact. In his second season with the team, Gill averaged 20.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game, shooting over 46% from the field. That season, he and rookie Larry Johnson formed one of the league’s most formidable scoring threats, though the team failed the make the playoffs. The following season, Gill’s numbers dropped, but he still averaged over 16 points per game on a team that now had Alonzo Mourning. The trio led the team to its first playoff berth, but Gill was gone the following season.
3. Larry Johnson
The Charlotte Hornets drafted Larry Johnson 1st overall out of UNLV in the 1991 NBA Draft. After an exceedingly successful collegiate career, Larry Johnson came to Charlotte with a good deal of hype, and in his first season he delivered. That season, Johnson averaged 19.2 points, 11 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game, shooting a slightly under 50% from the field. He won the Rookie of the Year Award, though the team failed to make the playoffs. The potential was there, however. The following season, he averaged 22.1 points per game, and the Hornets made the playoffs. Mourning and Johnson never gelled, and Johnson’s career was derailed by back injuries. They could have been so special…
2. Alonzo Mourning
In the 1992 NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets drafted Mourning 2nd overall out of the Georgetown University. Mourning was already physically superior to many NBA players before entering the league, and he was not taken 1st overall because another player was even more of a low-post terror: Shaquille O’Neal. That said, Mourning averaged 21 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game in his rookie season, shooting over 50% from the field. Along with Larry Johnson and Kendall Gill, he led the Hornets to their first ever playoff berth, and he capped their first-round victory over the Boston Celtics with a mid-range jumper to win Game 4. Mourning was truculent, however, and he didn’t last long in Charlotte due to contract disputes and internal conflict.
1. Glen Rice
Despite dealing Alonzo Mourning, who looked to be their most promising asset, the Charlotte Hornets got a nice return in Glen Rice. Glen Rice made an immediate impact in Charlotte; he was the team’s top scorer in his three seasons there and made 3 All-Star Games. He had his best season in 1996-1997, as he averaged 26.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, shooting over 47% from the field. He was a nightmare for opposing teams from behind the arc, shooting 47% that season. As a result of his stellar play, he was named to the All-NBA Second Team, and the following season he was named to the All-NBA Third Team.