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Controversy over Charlotte Hornets' P.J. Hairston Refuses to Die

CHARLOTTE, NC - JUNE 27: Charlotte Hornets announce their new draft picks P.J. Hairston to the media  at Time Warner Cable Arena on June 27, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice:  Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Mark JonesSenior Analyst IJanuary 13, 2017

P.J. Hairston put a nightmarish 2013-14 season officially behind him on Thursday night, as the former University of North Carolina basketball star was selected with the No. 26 pick and traded to the Charlotte Bobcats.

But his past continues to stir up controversy throughout North Carolina, both in his new Charlotte home and back in Chapel Hill.

"I've [had] some bumps in the road that I had to overcome and I feel like I've done that," said the 21-year-old Greensboro, North Carolina, native at a Friday press conference, according to The Associated Press.

However, prior to Thursday night's draft, he had expressed concern over the atmosphere he worried would surround him in Charlotte. "I feel like if I got drafted in Charlotte, people would be more worried about me than the basketball side," he had told Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer.

Hairston (far left) and Tokoto (far right) stand together as part of the UNC basketball program in March 2013.
Hairston (far left) and Tokoto (far right) stand together as part of the UNC basketball program in March 2013.USA TODAY Sports

Even back within the UNC basketball program, the debate over Hairston's actions and punishment continues to simmer on the verge of boiling.

Rising junior star J.P. Tokoto addressed the issue on Thursday afternoon.

"I just wish that the NCAA wouldn't have let...a mistake that he made kind of affect his career and his education," said Tokoto in a press conference with students. "Who knows what he's going to do with his education now?"

Hairston failed to play a single game for Tar Heels last season after UNC and the NCAA jointly decided not to reinstate the then-college junior, who had been connected through rental car use to felon Haydn "Fats" Thomas.

By January 9, the 6'6" guard was no longer enrolled at the university. He appeared in 26 games for the NBA Developmental League team Texas Legends over the second half of the season, averaging 21.8 points per contest.

Hairston sits alone on the UNC bench during the early 2013-14 season.
Hairston sits alone on the UNC bench during the early 2013-14 season.USA TODAY Sports

"The NCAA...altered what he was going to do with his life, which isn't cool," said Tokoto, despite noting that Hairston still "had a responsibility" for his actions.

"I didn't like it, the decision they made."

Andrew Carter, UNC reporter for the Raleigh News and Observer, added his perspective on Hairston's future on Friday. 

"The questions about Hairston’s past, and his character, will linger onfair or unfairuntil he proves he can be a professional," he wrote.

Considering the support and praise given to his character from former teammates and coaches—as well as his own cliche-laden yet seemingly honest personal testimony—Hairston's past appears more likely to become a nagging distraction than a foreshadowing of future wrongdoing.

The intensity of the debate over the past six months indicates that the issue will follow him like a hornet to the Hornets, though, even if his NBA activity remains completely clean. 

Hairston will face stiff competition for playing time on a young, upward-trending and increasingly deep Hornets squad. Nonetheless, several months of D-League success could end up yielding dividends come training camp.

"He's going to be just fine in the NBA or whatever he does in life," said Tokoto. "He's a great guy."

It seems, however, that Hairston's controversial history isn't going to give way to a new storyline anytime soon.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise indicated.

Mark Jones has been a featured columnist for Bleacher Report since 2009. Visit his profile to read more, or follow him on Twitter.

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