New Orleans Hornets: Re-Living the Most Memorable Moments of the Hornets' Era

Andy HuSenior Writer IIJanuary 25, 2013

New Orleans Hornets: Re-Living the Most Memorable Moments of the Hornets' Era

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    The era of the New Orleans Hornets is coming to an end after the decision to adopt the new "Pelicans" title at the beginning of the 2013-2014 season.

    In fifteen alluring and delightful years as the Hornets, the team that carries the blue and teal may never be the same again. It's only fitting for us to reminisce and relive some of the greatest and worst moments of the Hornets' era, which was filled with many ups and downs, surprises and twists.

    This slideshow will recall some of the most important moments of the Hornets' history, and examine the dynamic effects that they had on the franchise

10. Hornets Defeat Bulls in Michael Jordan's Return to North Carolina

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    In the Charlotte Hornets' inaugural season, they finished with a dismal record of 20-62. However, the most important moment during that stretch would be their home win against the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.

    December 23, 1988 marked Jordan's first return to the Queen City as a professional basketball player. The Hornets, led by Kelly Tripucka, defeated Jordan's Bulls 103-101 at home, which marked a significant moment for the franchise.

    Every seat in the building was sold out, and this Hornets' victory demonstrated the massive support and loyalty from the fans, even though most of them probably just bought tickets to watch a young Jordan fly through the roof.

    It also illustrated how the fans were eager and willing to embrace their new team, as the team sold out 364 home games for nine consecutive seasons in the old Charlotte Coliseum.

9. Temporary Move to Oklahoma City

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    Following the aftermath and devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Hornets were forced to temporarily relocate to the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.

    The amount of fan support in the area was incredible, even though the Hornets weren't even their team. It was obvious that the Oklahoma City residents were huge sports fans just dying to have a professional basketball team in town.

    According to Fran Blinebury of the Houston Chronicle, the Hornets sold over 10,000 tickets in its first ten days in Oklahoma City, ranking them in the top three in the whole NBA. It was simply unbelievable, and the arenas were always packed and louder than any other home games since the team left Charlotte. 

    The two seasons in Oklahoma City were unforgettable because not only did the city save the Hornets' season, but they also signified the growing love for the sport of basketball around the country. 

    The city embraced the team, and it didn't take long to for the NBA to realize that Oklahoma City had a great fanbase for basketball and deserved a team of their own.

    You know the story of what happened next.

8. Move from Charlotte to New Orleans

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    With fans unhappy with then-owner George Shinn's unwillingness to cough up money to keep Alonzo Mourning and shipping out Larry Johnson—two of the best players on the team—the attendance and revenue suffered for the following years before the Hornets left Charlotte.

    At the time of the relocation, Shinn lost basically all of the support from fans because of his controversial decisions over the team's roster and his contentious personal life.

    He also wanted to build a new arena, since the Charlotte Coliseum was starting to pale in comparison to newer NBA arenas due to the lack of modern technology and infrastructure. Shinn's demands were eventually satisfied, but due to increasing animosity towards him, he was forced to sell the team to a group who brought them to New Orleans.

    This marked a turning point in Hornets' history, as the team literally went from one of the biggest television markets in basketball to one of the smaller markets.

    Although the folks of New Orleans must've been happy to have the first professional basketball team in town since the New Orleans Jazz moved to Utah, the fan support was nowhere near the level of the Charlotte locals in their heyday. 

7. David Stern Buying the Team

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    I'm not sure if this should be considered a good thing or a bad thing.

    In one perspective, the fans in New Orleans would absolutely love the fact that the team will remain in the Big Easy.

    On the other hand, this created a certain kind of awkwardness between the players and the owner, since David Stern is the commissioner of the league. Not only that, but it also demonstrated the lack of potential buyers for a team in a very small market that may not be suited for a professional basketball team.

    With the franchise in a mess and the team scrambling to find a buyer, the Hornets lost two of their best players in the 2012 offseason—Chris Paul and David West—who clearly didn't want to stick around much longer.

    In creating an even more awkward environment, Stern vetoed a trade that was supposed to send Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers. Years from now, that will be the only thing NBA fans will remember about Stern's ownership of the Hornets.

    Had Stern not exercised his power in the Hornets' business, we could possibly be seeing a whole different league.

6. Alonzo Mourning Drafted in 1992

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    After drafting Larry Johnson in the 1991 NBA draft, the Charlotte Hornets added another potential superstar to their team with the second overall pick in the 1992 NBA draft—Alonzo Mourning.

    Mourning would be paired with Johnson, and together they formed one of the league's most dominant frontcourts. Their skills complemented each other well, as Mourning was a rugged, tough interior post presence, while Johnson could score from anywhere on the court, possessing great all-around offensive abilities.

    The team fought its way to the franchise's first ever playoff appearance and defeated the favored Boston Celtics in four games before bowing out to a more experienced New York Knicks squad, led by Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing.

    In game 4 of their first round series against the Celtics, Mourning hit one of the most memorable game-winning shots in NBA history to secure the Hornets' their first ever playoff series victory in franchise history.

    Mourning would only play four seasons in Charlotte, but during his tenure, he was one of the most decorated, exciting players to watch and he brought a sense of hope to a franchise that looked lost.

5. Hornets Acquire Glen Rice

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    Mourning had some great years in Charlotte and elevated the franchise to a higher level, but he would be traded to the Miami Heat after failed contract negotiations for Glen Rice, Matt Geiger and Khalid Reeves.

    Although the organization's inability to re-sign Mourning was disapproved by Hornets fans, Rice would be a major contributor who would lead the team to some of its best seasons ever.

    After Larry Johnson and Kenny Anderson were dealt during the 1996 offseason, the sharpshooting Rice and the newly acquired Vlade Divac guided the team to a stellar 54-28 record and a return to the playoffs. The next season, the team registered another great record, going 51-31 and making the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

    However, the team's regular season success did not accumulate to much success in the playoffs. They would be swept in the first round by the Knicks in 1997 and fall to the Jordan-led Bulls in 1998.

    Rice ended up being trade after just three seasons with the Hornets, while Mourning led the Heat to six consecutive playoff appearances, including a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

    Despite being diagnosed with a serious kidney disease towards his later years, it's interesting to wonder how the Hornets would've competed if they kept together the core of their team.

4. Baron Davis Brings Life to a Fading Franchise

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    With the Hornets fading into obscurity by the end of the Glen Rice era, the team ended up with the third pick of the 1999 NBA draft—which they used to select the energetic, explosive Baron Davis.

    Davis, along with a few notable contributors in Jamaal Mashburn and David Wesley, led the Hornets to four consecutive playoff appearances—two in Charlotte and two after the location to New Orleans.

    In chronological order, the Hornets lost twice in the conference semifinals and then twice in the first round—the last of which was a first round loss to the Miami Heat, led by a young Dwyane Wade.

    In his prime, Davis was one of the most explosive, entertaining players to watch, both on and off the court. He was selected as an All-Star reserve twice during his tenure with the Hornets, and interestingly enough, those were the only two nominations in his whole career.

3. Chris Paul Drafted in 2005

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    After an abysmal 18-64 season, the New Orleans Hornets snatched the fourth pick of the draft and used it to select Wake Forest product, future All-Star and All-NBA point guard Chris Paul.

    In his third season in the league, Paul, along with David West, would lead the Hornets to an exceptional 56-26 record—the best record in franchise history. They would make it to the second round of the playoffs before falling to the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.

    Next season, the Hornets made the playoffs once again, while Paul recorded his best regular season campaign in his career. He posted a mind-boggling PER of 30.0, while averaging 22.8 PPG, 11.0 APG, 5.5 RPG and 2.8 steals.

    Needless to say, after the Hornets traded away Paul, they were no longer playoff contenders and subsequently become a lottery team in recent years. On the other hand, Paul cemented himself as one of the best point guards in the league—and arguably the best.

2. Kobe Bryant Traded to Lakers for Divac

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    Although this trade didn't seem nearly as lopsided when it happened, the Hornets will be remembered for trading away a future 15-time All Star, five-time champion and the second best shooting guard in history for a center who only played two seasons with the team.

    The Charlotte Hornets selected the 17-year old, high school sensation Kobe Bryant in the 1996 NBA draft and traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vlade Divac.

    It seemed like a good deal for the Hornets, considering Divac was a borderline All-Star center who averaged 16.0 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 4.1 APG and 2.2 steals a year before the trade happened. On the other hand, Bryant was an unproven teenager who never even played a lick of college ball.

    Sixteen years later and now it's pretty obvious who got the better end of the trade. Whether he forced himself out of the organization or not, the Divac for Bryant trade posthumously became one of the worst trades in NBA history.

1. Bobby Phills' Car Accident

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    Fan favorite and defensive specialist Bobby Phills and his car crash that ultimately lead to his death is unquestionably the biggest travesty in Hornets history.

    Nothing in any of the previous slides can compare to the death of an NBA player, especially one that meant as much to his team and the city as Phills. 

    Putting basketball aside, Phills was a dedicated father and active community helper who supported many children's charities and organizations.

    He was also a great leader on the Hornets, and off the court as well. Ben Jobe, Phills' former college coach, presented the following statement after his passing:

    He could have been one of the foremost black leaders in the country. He had the brain power, he had the great family background. He had everything. For years, I tried to get him to go on to med school like he talked about when he was a kid.

    He was certainly a unique person, and it's very unfortunate that we weren't able to see what he was capable of outside of basketball.

    Phills' No. 13 jersey was retired shortly after his accident.