“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.