It’s Our Jacket

“Yo, Charlotte is like Hell on Earth, but I really dug your team! ‘Preciate the dope jacket, too!”

That’s what I got from the Grantland piece from Rembert Browne, entitled “Charlotte Hornets Starter Jackets: An Appreciation“.

Meanwhile, I’m seeing other Charlotte Hornets fans fawn over the piece in a wave of sedating nostalgia. LJ! Zo! Muggsy! Ah…good times.

I’m not swooning in adulation.

I loved those jackets. I never had one, but they were great nonetheless. It is undoubtedly the Starteriest Starter Jacket, like Browne says. I remember seeing Larry Johnson sport one in one of his Converse ‘Grandmama’ commercials (see below). With that gap between his teeth and that charisma to go along with a great, playful advertising concept, how could you not fall in love with him and that jacket?

And the rest of the players were great, too. Alonzo, the proud defensive stalwart. Muggsy, the heart of gold pure point guard. Dell, the hot-shooting, quick-to-grin 6th man. There are many more great Charlotte Hornets, as the organization didn’t really deal with people of poor character (you know, outside of the owner), but my favorite was probably Bobby Phills, who I can’t introduce, lest I break down into tears.

Further, the team’s marketing and design didn’t hurt either. The “Teal Boom,” or the era when teal reigned supreme as the color of choice, coincided perfectly with the franchise. The Hornets had a great name that tied into the city’s history and a fitting logo to complement it. And then there was Hugo, who could do it all, as Browne points out. It always felt like the Hornets were meant to be for Charlotte.

And they were our city’s team, not to sound exclusionary. Those Starter jackets didn’t just represent the team or the mascot or the cool colors or the players. They represented the city and what the team and the players stood for within the perspective of Charlotte. We were a growing Southern city, soon to become a banking metropolis of the South. Coinciding with that was our first NBA franchise. The team grew from small, humble beginnings full of fans’ bright-eyed optimism for a young and struggling yet powerfully strong-willed team.

You can’t win games on optimism and hope, though. The Hornets lost their first game by 40 points and went on to win 20 games in their first season in 1988-89. And then they regressed slightly the next year, winning  only 19 games. A winning record wouldn’t come until the team’s fifth season, yet the Hornets sold out 364 straight home games and led the NBA in attendance eight times in 11 seasons. We were crazy for our Hornets, and they us.

Meanwhile, the city grew as well. NationsBank (which later purchased BankAmerica and became what you know now as Bank of America) had become one of the largest in the nation, flourishing in the economic climate. Joining NationsBank was First Union (later merged with Wachovia), another then-massive bank, to shape Charlotte as a premier expanding banking city in America and the world. The city fully rallied behind the team, which was so utterly un-hateable. With the largest NBA seating capacity arena ever built, fans filled the 24,000-seat stadium to capacity on just about any night to watch a developing team play before a developing city.

But to Browne, that’s not what these jackets represent; he liked the players, the burgeoning franchise, the incredible mascot, etc. And that’s fine, because I understand he’s not a Charlottean. But as a native Charlotte Hornets fan, I can’t fall in line with everyone going gaga over the post.

Browne clearly feels nothing but animosity towards Charlotte:

Fact: The popularity of this jacket has nothing to do with the city of Charlotte. Call this South-on-South hate, but as an Atlantan, I wouldn’t live in Charlotte if you promised me a $1,000 a day and a lifetime supply of teal and purple color contacts. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that zero percent of this jacket’s success should be attributed to the quasi-decent city of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Fact: I’d pay $1,000 a day to keep him out of Charlotte.

You can dump on the city as much you like. It’s no New York, Los Angeles, Paris or even Atlanta. But Charlotte’s home to me. I know the city and I love it.

And to say the jacket’s popularity has nothing to do with Charlotte is asinine and painful.

It has everything to do with Charlotte.

The team, the players, the jacket, the everything – they represented our city. They were Charlotte. We roared as one when Mourning hit the 20-footer against the Celtics to help win the franchise’s first-ever playoff series. We spat when George Shinn showed his true self. We wept when Bobby Phills died. We were the Charlotte Hornets.

So you can go back to Atlanta and give us back our fucking jacket.


11 responses to “It’s Our Jacket

  1. Never really thought of it that way, seeing as I’ve never been to Charlotte. Let’s just say I loved everything about his piece besides the unnecessary trashing of CLT.

  2. Bravo Ben
    Great rebuttal. I actually have a Fossil, limited edition, Charlotte Hornets watch at home now (has a hardwood face), and there is a teal Charlotte Hornets sweatshirt in the back of my CRV. Those were the days.
    Matt Geiger all the way!

  3. I enjoyed the original article, but thought it was uncalled for to trash Charlotte like that for no apparent reason. I’ve never even been to Charlotte, but I was definitely a HUGE Hornets fan as a kid. I remember watching that game when Alonzo hit the game-winner against the Celtics. My first and only Starter jacket as a kid was the Hornets and my first NBA jersey was Zo. Also, That Hugo card he used in the article is my scan, with no credit! Although, maybe he just found it on google or something.
    Nice job, Ben!

  4. He was unnecessarily harsh, yes, but, c’mon, you know that the reason I had friends in Columbus Ohio who wore Hornets jackets had nothing to do with your city or its banking industry or its bass fishing or its Southern niceness.

    • I think you may have missed the point. While Charlotte didn’t have the superficial impact as New York’s skyline or Miami’s colorful nightlife, the impression the city left created the fever that made people want the jackets, jerseys or what have you. I can’t imagine Muggsy Bogues anywhere else besides Charlotte, even though I know he played in Toronto and Golden State. He lives in Charlotte to this day. Charlotte was as much a part of the teams and players everyone loved as the players and team were a part of the city. They recognized that as they grew, the city grew alongside them, creating a bond between the players, team and Charlotte.

      • So does ‘impression the city left’ mean you think the city had some bizarre mystical power in attracting interesting players? Or do you think, as it seems you do, that the people of Charlotte reacted with amount of excitement different from any other city, and without that others wouldn’t be roped in? If it’s the former, whatever. If it’s latter, I think that’s a stretch. People love interesting players and mascots and so on everywhere. Johnson and Zo and Muggsy would have sold out games anywhere and I believe expansion teams sell out a lot too. The streak is impressive, but I think there are a dozen other cities that would have matched it, given the same circumstances.

      • Here, I’ll put it very simply for you:

        The Hornets = Charlotte, thus the jacket’s popularity which was derived from the Hornets’ popularity cannot have “nothing to do with the city”

  5. I don’t see why not, I mean here in Ohio everybody loves Ohio State football, but laughs at Columbus. Notre Dame is (was?) a national brand for reasons that had nothing to do with South Bend. With that said, we’re clearly at a point where you want to defend the pride of your city more than I want to come to your blog and and attack your city, so I’ll just say, who knows, maybe Charlotte really does have a mystic power to attract the unique, after all you guys now have Captain Jack and Boris Diaw.

    One more thing, I only bothered to comment because I thought, “This guy can clearly write, someone should point out to him he didn’t actually make an argument” I still don’t see the argument, but the writing is legit. I’d like to see you on a national stage someday, preferably with something you’ll get less defensive about.

    • I appreciate the compliment James. Obviously this is something I feel very passionately about.

      The argument is that there was an intrinsic bond between the Hornets and the city, which renders Browne’s argument that Charlotte had nothing to do with how great the Starter jackets false. If the Hornets were instead engendered in, say, Cleveland, I can’t say I see them having the same attachment (assuming they didn’t already have the Cavs). An important part of these jackets’ popularity is the teal-dominated color scheme. At the time, it was as if teal was just discovered. The Hornets launched the teal explosion, much like how Charlotte was exploding at the time as a blossoming city. Would teal fit Cleveland? No. Does teal fit New Orleans now? No. The color’s been tweaked and isn’t as teal as it once was, but it just doesn’t represent New Orleans like it did Charlotte.

  6. If someone from a nearby geographic rival dissed my hometown, I’d take it hard too. I couldn’t imagine having my Pistons pack up and leave the state, though, market-size or not, I suppose such a thing is possible in this economic landscape.

    I get the idea that the timing of the teal appeal (courtesy of Alexander Julian, right?) and the professed timing of Charlotte’s emergence as a banking center might have lined up. And I do think it’s a shame that a franchise with great fan support had to move because the owner was a bum and poisoned the well with his shady behavior–odd how things stuck to Shinn and Donald Sterling still turns a profit in LA.

    But I don’t really know if the style of play of the Charlotte Hornets was somehow intrinsically Charlotte. The tough defensive Pistons teams from 1987 to 1991 and from 2003 to 2008 fit the blue collar grit of the city of Detroit. The Reggie Miller/Mark Jackson/Larry Brown Pacers, with their jump shooting and passing fit the image of hoops in the Hoosier state. To switch sports, the rough, physical defense of the Steelers works with the working class image of Pittsburgh.

    But some teams have success and almost seem to have it in a way that is disconnected to the wider image of the team’s hometown. Was there anything about the Shaq/Penny Magic that just screamed Orlando (when I think Magic Kingdom I sure do think missed free-throws!)? Did the Jason Kidd/Kenyon Martin Nets make viewers say, damn those guys are really reppin’ Jersey? The teams were good, but they didn’t play a style that was a reflection of the cities, states, or regions that they called home.

    A pre-injury Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, Muggsy Bogues, Kendall Gill, and Dell Curry were fun to watch. But those guys would have been fun to watch separately or together or in Denver or Miami (though the crowds would have sucked until Game 7 of a playoff series) or in Chicago. There wasn’t anything about their play as individuals or as a team that shouted “Damn, that’s what folks know Charlotte is about!” Even with the Bobcats, there isn’t anything identifiable about the style of play of the team or its traditions, unless frustrating ownership can be said to be a tradition, from Shinn, to cheap-ass Sugar Bob Johnson, to the cap-conscious salary dumping of Michael Jordan (Jordan seems to have a lot less passion for winning now that he’s signing checks instead of shooting push-off jumpers).

    Maybe Shinn said “What’s the color for steal?” and his marketing folks misheard him and thought he said teal.

  7. Pingback: Around The Forest: Week of September 16 | Rude 'Tude Sports

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