Today, the Hornets name officially returns to Charlotte again. This is great news for people who care about important things, like: most players to have their talents stolen by the aliens in Space Jam (two out of the five were Charlotte Hornets), immeasurable amounts of swag and fashion trailblazing. The now iconic Charlotte Hornets uniforms started a fashion craze in the early 90s.
Menswear designer and North Carolina native Alexander Julian created a jersey that would resonate beyond the team and even basketball. The teal and purple colorway would normally have been unthinkable for a sports team, but it was Julian’s trademark color scheme. Most people had hardly even heard of the color at the time the jerseys were unveiled, and this gave the Hornets a chance to shape its perception.
The three cornerstones of those 90’s Hornets teams included a scrappy, shortest-in-history 5’3” Muggsy Bogues, who made every elementary schooler feel as if his NBA dreams were within reach. Larry Johnson, who became a pop culture sensation after his cross-dressing ads for Converse that spawned his “Grandmama” nickname. And Alonzo Mourning who was drafted second overall after Shaq, made the Hornets a legitimate threat, and also became popular in rap songs thanks to his rhyme-friendly name. These players embraced the strange colors and made them cool for everyone else to wear. Everything about this team was novel: they had just joined the league as an expansion team, the colors were new to most NBA fans, and even their players were just a little eccentric.
The intersection of the Starter jacket popularity, the 90s trend of loud, stand-out colors, and the NBA’s rising popularity with stars like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson came at exactly the right time for the Hornets. The Hornets’ unique colorway instantly made the Hornets merch— especially the Starter jacket—the bestselling out of every NBA franchise. Nike’s blessing with the classic Grape Jordan V’s, which prominently used the Hornet’s teal and purple, in 1990 fully cemented that these colors had moved beyond Charlotte city limits.
Other sports franchises acted like major hypebeasts, capitalizing on the Hornets’ trendsetting. Almost every new franchise in the four major sports introduced right after the Hornets debuted used one or both of the new colors. In the NBA, the Grizzlies and Raptors both borrowed purple; in the MLB, the Marlins, Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Devil Rays all got on the teal trend; NFL, Ravens and Jaguars; NHL, Coyotes, Sharks and Mighty Ducks. Other teams saw the success that the Hornets had with their imaginative uniforms and wanted some of that for themselves. Charlotte was the first basketball squad to ever use pinstripes on an NBA uniform, and the wide-set country version stood in opposition to the businesslike Yankees pattern. The Orlando Magic, Toronto Raptors, Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls, and Indiana Pacers all added pinstripes to their unis in the following years, none replicating the tri-color cool of the Hornets.
As we welcome the teal and purple back onto the hardwood, we doubt it will start a fervor like it did over 25 years ago, but at the least should have us scouring eBay for Starters jackets, Super Nintendos, and #VRARE Beanie Babies.
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