Tonight marks the final game the New Orleans Hornets will play before taking the court this fall as the New Orleans Pelicans. It’s an exciting time for the franchise as the team gets a shot at a new beginning with a fresh brand, one designed primarily focused on the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana.
With the arrival of the Pelicans comes the departure of the Hornets, their classic mascot Hugo, the logo, and colour scheme which changed the way several sports teams designed during most of the 1990s.
The Charlotte Hornets, as they were originally known, were admitted to the National Basketball Association on April 22, 1987 (why, it’s almost the anniversary!) along with Miami, Minneapolis, and Orlando. Charlotte’s entry started play along with the Miami Heat in the 1988/89 NBA season and were named after how one British commander described the Charlotte area during the Revolutionary War, a “veritable hornet’s nest of rebellion”.
The Hornets introduced the colour teal to sports, it was an instant hit – spreading fast to hockey with the San Jose Sharks, baseball with the Florida Marlins, and to other basketball teams – even changing the classic red, white, and blue of the Detroit Pistons to teal, black, and red. Impossible to think such a time existed. The teal stuck around for over two decades with this franchise surviving a move to New Orleans and a temporary shift to Oklahoma City, surviving several new owners, and brand modernizing.
The club never tasted much post-season success only winning a couple of playoff series in their years (including a stunning elimination of the Boston Celtics in 1993) but there were certainly memorable moments despite this.
They defeated “His Airness” Michael Jordan in his first pro game back in North Carolina in 1988; sold out the Charlotte Coliseum for their first ten! seasons (and this wasn’t some tiny arena – the Coliseum held 24,000 people!); they were there when the city of New Orleans was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and their temporary relocation during the cleanup paved the way for Oklahoma City to get their own NBA team a few seasons later.
Chris Paul dominated, Bobby Phills was remembered, Kobe Bryant was traded before ever playing a game for them, and they celebrated a Southeast Division title in 2008.
Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, David West, Baron Davis, Dell Curry, Glen Rice as well as those mentioned in the preceding paragraph… these names will forever be attached with the Hornets brand to me and many others who have watched basketball in the past few decades.
In all, the Hornets brand lasted for a good quarter-century before New Orleans and new team owner Tom Benson wanted to put their own stamp on the franchise (and you can’t really blame them), the Hornets name is now free for a potential return to Charlotte where the city’s current NBA team, the Bobcats, are reportedly considering a switch back to Hugo and the classic teal and purple.
Tonight we bid farewell (but for how long?) to this classic logo, to this revolutionary colour scheme, and a basketball team name nobody will ever forget. Time to bring on the Pelicans.
UPDATE (4/18/13 10:30am ET): The Hornets ended up losing their final game last night, the host Dallas Mavericks came out on top 99-87. A couple of photos below of the last time these will be seen on the court (eh, until some Pelicans @ Hornets throwback game happens 10-15 years from now):