North Carolina is a hotbed of basketball fanaticism. Nearly every school, from the ACC powerhouses to the HBCU strongholds, have a hand in the state’s basketball superiority. Dean Smith, Clarence “Big House” Gaines, Coach K and Jimmy V are all coaches who’ve presided over some of the best and most beloved programs in NCAA history. And born and bred players like MJ, James Worthy, David Thompson and Steph Curry are just a handful of players from the Tar Heel State who went on to NBA greatness.
With this breeding ground of talent, there was a natural market for a loyal fan base in 1987 when the NBA created the Charlotte Hornets franchise. They played their first game on November 4th against the Cavs and a love affair began. The team packed the seats, at one point holding an arena sellout streak of 364 games. Powered by an eclectic and talented group of players in the ‘90s and one of the most influential uniforms in sports history, they became a fan favorite around the league. Then, of course, things turned sour with the front office and the team eventually moved to New Orleans in 2002. BET founder Bob Johnson returned an NBA team—self-servingly called the Bobcats after his own nickname—in 2004, but their buzz-less franchise has failed to latch on to the fanbase. Smartly, the Michael Jordan-owned team realized where their bread is buttered and today officially welcomed back the Hornets name and colorway. In honor of this resurgence, we’ve compiled a list of the greatest and most memorable all-time Hornet players.
Alonzo Mourning was, is, and will always be the living embodiment of intensity. Though the Hornets were gaining popularity due to Larry Johnson’s play and a rabid, basketball-loving NC fan base, Mourning’s addition legitimized the team. He played in Charlotte for only three seasons before business decisions forced his hand into leaving for Miami. He made his mark however, most memorably in a series-winning buzzer beater in the first round of the 1993 playoffs that officially put an end to the Celtics Dynasty.2 of 12
Way before Dell Curry was just Steph’s dad, he was a sharpshooter for the Charlotte Hornets. Every year he was amongst the league leaders in 3-point shooting percentage, including a seven-year run from ’91 to ’98 where he shot at least 40% from the 3-point line. Unlike a lot of his teammates, his tenure in Charlotte wasn’t just a stopover. Dell built his career in teal, playing nine years for the franchise and raising his family in the area.3 of 12
As the first pick in the 1991 Draft, Larry Johnson was supposed to a franchise player. In some ways he was, averaging 19 and 11 as a rook. Johnson brought his gold tooth swagger to Charlotte and put the fledgling NBA franchise on the map. He also reenergized Converse, who at the time had begun to lose it way amongst the sneaker company battles. His “Grandmama” commercials were funny and stood out at a time of supreme sneaker commercial innovation. It seemed he and the Hornets were on the upswing, but it was not to be. Injuries slowed his game and he was traded to the Kicks in 1997.4 of 12
It’s easy to forget about Glen Rice and it’s likely that the 25-and-under set treat him like us ‘70’s babies treat Norm Nixon. He’s memorable sure, but only to a point. Robinson came to Charlotte after a nice run in Miami and continued his career as a formidable scorer, making three All-Star appearances (he was the All-Star Game MVP in ’97) in the three years he played for the Hornets.5 of 12
Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues got every single drop of ability out of his 5’3 frame. For other guys, that size would have made him a novelty act, but Bogue’s career in Charlotte was respectable. Lighting quick, his play was instrumental in several of the Hornets early and mid ‘90s playoff runs. He’s still the Hornets/Pelicans career leader in minutes played, assists and steals. Bogues’ stature and ability made him arguably the most popular player in the franchise’s history. Proof of that is his recent selection as Team Ambassador, in which he’ll help with the team’s rebranding.6 of 12
After Vlade Divac’s splashy surprise debut with the Lakers and before his career-defining run with the Kings, Vlade held it down in Charlotte. Desperate to build a legitimate contender, the Hornets got the business end of one of the most-lopsided trades in NBA history. Charlotte gave up the 13th pick in the ’96 Draft for Divac and his smoothed out European game. Though he averaged 12.6 and 10. 4 points for the two seasons (the team made the playoffs in both years) he played in Charlotte, the Lakers ended up drafting Kobe Bryant with that pick and we know how that turned out.7 of 12
Rex Chapman was a star at Kentucky and brought that spotlight with him to Charlotte. Picked eighth in the ’88 Draft, Chapman was the first player ever signed by the team and though those early squads lost often, he played well. He averaged 16.2 points over his four-year run for the Hornets before being traded to Washington.8 of 12
The story of Bobby Phills is of course a sad one. The tragic ending of his life has overshadowed his career, where he functioned as a defensive stopper for the Hornets as well as a reliable rotation scorer (he averaged 12.3 points over his Hornets career.) However, his biggest contribution for the team happened in the greater Charlotte area, where he was a vital and active member of the community. His number 13 was the first retired jersey in the team’s history.9 of 12
Eddie Jones was arguably the Hornets best player during the post Mourning/Johnson years. After leading the league in attendance eight out of their first 10 seasons, the team fell out of favor with the fans once the new team novelty wore off. Jones, acquired in (for Glen Rice) ‘99, had just come of two All-Star Game appearances for the Lakers. He instantly raised the talent level of the team, averaging 19 points and 4 assists in his two-year run as a Hornet and scored a deal as a Jordan Brand athlete.10 of 12
Hersey Hawkins continued the Hornets lineage of great shooters. Traded to Charlotte in 1993, he averaged 11.4 over his three-year Hornets career and shot a career-best 44% from the 3-point line in the ’95-’96 campaign.11 of 12
For a franchise that’s seen more losing than winning, the Hornets have had a disproportionate amount of quality point guards. After being selected third in the ‘99 Draft, Baron Davis continued that trend, instantly bringing athleticism and star power to the team. Becoming a full-time starter in the ’00-’01 season, he averaged 13 points and 7 assists and helped lead the Hornets to the postseason. He’d average 18 and 8 the next year before the team moved to New Orleans.12 of 12