(Courtesy Todd Sumlin – Charlotte Observer)
The perfect storm is brewing for the revival of professional basketball in the Carolinas, and it wasn’t lost on the 18,000-plus that packed Time Warner Cable Arena. The second half of the Bobcats’ loss to the Jazz will long be forgotten, as most NBA games in December inevitably are, but Dec. 21 will remain special for Charlotte. It was the return of the Hornets and a brief reminder of what home court advantage feels and sounds like.
The first phase of the new Hornets identity rollout couldn’t have gone better for Michael Jordan. While the recent past hasn’t given him reason to smile, one lined Jordan’s face during his statement to fans; the moment certainly wasn’t lost on him.
At halftime, the lights dimmed and a buzz, not unlike the sound that played at crucial points in Hornets’ games past, filled the arena. The ceremony beautifully bridged the past and future of the franchise – paying homage to former Hornets Muggsy Bouges, Dell Curry, Rex Chapman and Kelly Tripuka, who joined Jordan at half-court.
Hornets’ purists may be disappointed that the franchise’s brain trust tweaked their beloved Hugo, but this isn’t the early 1990s anymore. Modern Hugo isn’t the happy-go-lucky, almost plump hornet of yesteryear; he’s sleeker and fiercer, with his sharp stinger more predominantly displayed.
Before the unveiling Curry, who is the analyst for Sports South Bobcats broadcasts said, “We’re back!”
The love and passion that this city showed us when we were here was truly amazing. We’re grateful for it back then, and we’re grateful to be part of it now,” said Curry.
It didn’t take long for fans to put that “love and passion” on display, as Cats fans tried to will their team – whatever you want to call it during this unprecedented identity crisis – to victory.
With 2:47 left in the second quarter, the Cats were in control taking an 11-point victory. But the young Jazz team, which has the worst record in the Western Conference, rebounded with a barrage of three-pointers. Rookie Trey Burke, who paced his team with 20 points, clawed the Jazz back within four by halftime.
The Cats trailed by as many as nine in the fourth quarter, but mounted a comeback of their own. Fans kept waiting to explode, and Al Jefferson answered the bell with a one-handed dunk off a miss to bring the Cats within two, 81-79.
The Cats just didn’t have enough fire power, or an answer for Burke, who hit another dagger three.
Down one with 27 second left, the Cats had an opportunity to take the lead and potentially the game. Kemba Walker beat Burke off the dribble and attacked the basket for a layup, which bounced off the glass to Jefferson. But the big man, who played well against his former team, couldn’t lay-in two give-me, put-back attempts.
"The basketball gods weren't on my side tonight," Jefferson said, according to an Associated Press report. "It happens."
Burke hit two free throws, and the Cats missed two three-point attempts to fall 88-85.
The loss can be chalked up to three-point shooting, as the Jazz put on a clinic shooting 10-21 from distance, while the Cats went a measly 2-10.
With MKG already on the mend, the Cats also announced before the game that Jeff Taylor would miss the remainder of the season with a torn right Achilles tendon – a huge blow as Taylor was enjoying a breakout start to the season. Until MKG is ready to go, Anthony Tolliver, who played 26 ho-hum minutes last night, will get a lot of run from Coach Steve Clifford.
In spite of the loss, the Bobcats enjoyed a successful week with a 3-1 record, including a 20-point comeback against the Pistons in a game that featured a 41-point fourth quarter for the Cats.
The Cats will attempt to bounce back against the lowly Bucks in Charlotte Monday.
Once again, this game had greater meaning than the disappointing final score. Last night represented what professional basketball can be in Charlotte. It won’t be surprising if the packed crowd was an aberration – simply a result of one of the team’s five Buzz City Nights scheduled for this season.
Excitement about the rebrand is warranted, but it takes more than an identity to put fans in the seats; it takes a competitive product on the floor. These Cats are onto something, and it’s not to late to jump on the bandwagon. Just remember: the perfect storm is approaching. Don’t be late.