The Short But Sweet History of the Charlotte Hornets

By Jennifer Hassan in NBA
| December 4, 2020 6:42 am PST
History of the Charlotte Hornets

North Carolina is one state known for ebullient sports enthusiasm, offering unwavering support to the Hornets, as well as the Durham Bulls, the Carolina Mudcats, the NC Courage, and dozens of other major and minor league teams.

The number of people in North Carolina who enjoy betting on the NBA is testament to the state’s enthusiasm for a hardwood court and a big orange ball.

Here’s my account of Charlotte Hornets history, starting at the very beginning.

Hornets History Overview

The Hornets are an NBA expansion team, formed in the late 1980s.

The city of Charlotte was growing by leaps and bounds in the seventies and eighties, and the citizens of this beautiful burg were ready for the big leagues.

Who Founded the Hornets?

Major league expansion teams are usually “won” for their city by businesspeople who are also sports fans, as well as being visionaries.

It takes a certain personality to put all of one’s time, effort, and focus on obtaining a team for a city, knowing that there are no guarantees and that other community leaders in other cities are trying to win the same team for their town.

In the case of the Hornets, the local superfan who was desperate to bring the NBA to town was a Mr. George Shinn.

Shinn is an interesting character. He nearly failed out of high school but managed to graduate…last in his class. He then worked at a car wash.

One day, he decided to attend business school. We don’t know what caused this epiphany, but it must have been profound since he went on to not only become a hugely successful businessman, but he bought his college and several others and created an education empire.

Shinn was eager to get the Hornets, but what gave him massive leverage over other prospective owners was the fact that Charlotte already had a suitable stadium, whereas the other prospective cities would have had to build one.

A good stadium can make or break a team. Consider football’s Raiders. No town loved their football team more than Oakland loved the Raiders.

However, because the Oakland Coliseum is an irreparable icon of antiquated construction techniques, the Raiders had to break a million hearts and move to Las Vegas.

The “stadium issue” is one experienced in all sports, across all parts of the globe. Even Mongolian eagle hunters have to worry about keeping spectators warm during sub-zero competitions.

So, Charlotte residents already had their arena, and they had George Shinn on their side, and thus they acquired the Hornets.

When Did the Charlotte Hornets Join the NBA?

The Hornets became an official NBA expansion team in 1988.

Unlike some earlier basketball teams who had belonged to other leagues before joining the NBA, the Hornets became members of the National Basketball Association as soon as they were awarded to Charlotte.

Hornets Playoff History

The Hornets have been around for several decades, but they have really struggled to become a presence in the playoffs.

Their attendance in these postseason games are scattered throughout their history, and their only “streak” was a three-year period of consecutive attendance at the playoffs from 2000 through 2002.

Here is information on their playoff attendance over the past three decades.

Season Result
1992 – 1993 Lost to Knicks in conference semi-finals, 4 – 1
1994 – 1995 Lost to Bull in opening round, 3 – 1
1996 – 1997 Lost to Knicks in opening round, 3 – 0
1997 – 1998 Lost to Bulls in conference semi-finals, 4 – 1
1999 – 2000 Lost to Sixers in opening round, 3 – 1
2000 – 2001 Lost to Bucks in conference semi-finals, 4 – 3
2001 – 2002 Lost to Nets in conference semi-finals, 4 – 1
2009 – 2010 Lost to Magic in opening round, 4 – 0
2013 – 2014 Lost to Heat in opening round, 4 – 0
2015 – 2016 Lost to Magic in opening round, 4 – 3

Charlotte Hornets Head Coach History

Some of these men have left their marks both as players and as coaches. The Hornets’ second coach, Gene Littles, was a high school All-American who was drafted by the Knicks in 1969.

Coach Larry Brown, who was at the head of the Hornets from 2008 through 2010 (back when the Hornets were known as the Charlotte Bobcats), came to the team from stints with the Knicks, the Pistons, the 76ers, the Spurs, and several other “serious” teams.

James Borrego, the current head coach, is the NBA’s first Latino/Hispanic head coach. Pretty significant, considering the league has been around for more than 70 years.

Which reminds me: so much emphasis is placed on two or three ethnicities in this country that we forget all about the struggles of others who want a place in the NBA and other American major league sports.

Southeast Asians, East Indians, Hispanics, and members of other cultural groups can clearly see a wall that the rest of us may be impervious to, as they work to break into the NBA, which has traditionally hired coaches from only two ethnic backgrounds.

Tenure Coach Prior Experience
1988 – 1990 Dick Harter Pacers asst. coach
1990 – 1991 Gene Littles Cavaliers coach
1991 – 1996 Allan Bristow Nuggets asst. coach
1996 – 1999 Dave Cowens Celtics coach
1999 – 2002 Paul Silas Suns asst. coach
2004 – 2007 Bernie Bickerstaff Nuggets coach
2007 – 2008 Sam Vincent Fort Worth Flyers coach
2008 – 2010 Larry Brown Knicks coach
2010 – 2012 Paul Silas see above
2012 – 2013 Mike Dunlap Nuggets asst. coach
2013 – 2018 Steve Clifford Lakers asst. coach
2018 – present James Borrego Spurs asst. coach

In Summary

The Hornets are an institution in North Carolina, and there are folks in South Carolina who have adopted the team as their “hometown boys.”

Buses of fans from all around the southeastern United States chug into Charlotte on game days, and groups from various towns have even developed their own fight songs.

As we said, this is an area of sports fanaticism, and that kind of support can never hurt a local team.

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