A Fond Farewell to the Charlotte Bobcats, Who Will Soon No Longer Be the Bobcats
The end is nigh for the Charlotte Bobcats. They just got swept by the Miami Heat, which means the end of their season, and more interestingly, the end of their nickname as well. The team soon-to-be-formerly-known as the Bobcats will change its name to the Hornets next season, in deference to the previous Charlotte Hornets NBA team, which became the New Orleans Hornets in 2002 and are now known as the New Orleans Pelicans.
The name “Bobcats” will forever disappear from the consciousness of NBA fans. In time, the continuity confusion between the old and new Charlotte Hornets’s will dissipate, and the new Hornets will eventually be seen as an extension of the old Hornets. The name Bobcats, which was never popular to begin with -- the ‘Cats first owner, Bob Johnson, more or less named the team after himself -- has been attached to almost no positive memories. People in North Carolina will remember that there was once a Charlotte Bobcats, the same way a fan in Seattle might vaguely recall the Seattle Pilots, or how a fan of the Yankees may be aware that they were once the “Highlanders.” Outside of local fans and history buffs though, no one will likely remember that the “Bobcats” even existed. They’ll be just another Providence Steamrollers or Pittsburgh Ironmen or Waterloo Hawks.
In all likelihood, yesterday's loss is the last time “Bobcats” will be relevant to casual NBA fans. And so, in honor of the Bobcats, I present a highlight *cough* reel of some of the things that have happened to them from the time they first entered the league to now.
The Charlotte Bobcats, with a roster of retreads courtesy of the league's expansion draft, went 18-64 in their first season, which tied for the second-worst record in the NBA. Their head coach was Bernie Bickerstaff, who lasted for three seasons before being dumped for Sam Vincent. The Bobcats' leading scorer in their inaugural season was Emeka Okafor, who they had selected with No. 2 overall pick. Okafor was taken a spot after Dwight Howard, and at the time, it appeared that the two players were contemporaries; Okafor even beat out Howard for Rookie of the Year honors. But as time went on, Howard blossomed into a superstar, while Okafor remained a serviceable but unspectacular role player. Had the Bobcats been able to land the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft, and had they been able to build around Howard, it's possible the team could have become a factor in the Eastern Conference.
In the 2005 draft, the Bobcats selected Raymond Felton with the No. 5 overall pick. In another unfortunate twist of fate, the Bobcats were again one pick away from landing the best player in the draft: Chris Paul. Unfortunately, the New Orleans Hornets were a spot in front of them, and they left the 'Cats to toil with Felton -- who similar to Okafor has had a solid but not spectacular career -- instead of the best point guard in the NBA.
After playing at the old Charlotte Coliseum for a year, the Bobcats moved into their new stadium, which has since been christened as Time Warner Cable Arena. In their first game at their new digs, the Bobcats defeated the Boston Celtics in overtime, in what was easily the highlight of their season. The Bobcats went 26-56, and at the draft, they were once again a pick away from landing the best player in the class: LaMarcus Aldridge. With the No. 3 overall pick, the Bobcats selected Adam Morrison, who is one of the more curious busts in NBA history. Most draft-day busts have a tendency to hang around as role players; even Kwame Brown lasted 12 years in the league. But Morrison was never a factor. He lasted two years in Charlotte, got hurt, spent two years as a bench-warmer for the Lakers, and that was it. His career ended so quickly that we barely had time to appreciate what a disappointment he was.
In the offseason, Michael Jordan became a minority owner of the team.
The Bobcats endured another forgettable season, although they at least won 33 games this time around. The most memorable moment of their season wasn't a good one for them. In December of 2006, David Lee managed to beat them in double overtime with an improbable tip-in with 0.1 seconds left on the clock. To this day, this is the only time a game has been won on a play with 0.1 seconds left since the NBA enacted a rule stating that the only way to score with a tenth of a second left is on a tip-in.
The Bobcats wound up with the No. 8 pick in the 2007 draft, and at last were nowhere close to landing the best player: Kevin Durant. The Bobcats traded their pick, Brandon Wright, to the Golden State Warriors for Jason Richardson.
Under the tutelage of Sam Vincent, the Bobcats won 32 games. Once again, the most relevant highlight from a Bobcats game involved the team losing in remarkable fashion. On Nov. 24, Ray Allen hit a game-winning three off a steal from an inbounds pass -- a play that not only summarized the Bobcats' year, but the Celtics' as well, who with their shiny new Big Three won the NBA title that summer.
The Bobcats were stuck with the No. 9 pick in the draft and took D.J. Augustin instead of Brook Lopez, who was chosen with the next pick. But the franchise's biggest off-season move was easily convincing Larry Brown to become their head coach, which gave the team a modicum of credibility that they lacked with Bickerstaff and Vincent at the helm.
At last, the Bobcats began to piece together a respectable core of players. They traded Richardson and Jared Dudley to the Phoenix Suns for Raja Bell and Boris Diaw early in the year, and with Gerald Wallace, Felton and Okafor leading them, the Bobcats came within four games of making the postseason.
In the draft, they selected Gerald Henderson with the No. 12 pick, and in July, they traded Okafor to the New Orleans Hornets for Tyson Chandler.
Once again, the Bobcats made an inspired early-season move, trading for the disgruntled Stephen Jackson, who had been demanding to be traded from the Golden State Warriors. With Captain Jack on board, the Bobcats had what is still their best season in franchise history. They went 44-38 and at long last made it to the postseason, where they bowed out swiftly to the Orlando Magic. Still, with a polished starting lineup of Felton-Jackson-Wallace-Diaw-Chandler, and with a respectable coach in Larry Brown, it looked like the Bobcats had finally turned a corner and were leaving their losing ways in the dust. Little did fans know that this very team would soon have one of the worst seasons in the history of professional sports.
The '09-10 season also marked Michael Jordan buying a majority stake of the team, making him the first former player to be the principal owner of an NBA team. The coolness factor of Jordan owning a team was offset by the fact that he's one of the worst executives ever, a fact that would become all too clear once he started making hands-on personnel decisions. In the offseason, the Bobcats traded Tyson Chandler to the Mavericks for Erick Dampier, Eduardo Najera and Matt Carroll, a move that only can only be described as bloodcurdlingly horrendous. Raymond Felton also left for the New York Knicks, leaving the undersized D.J. Augustin to run the point.
The Bobcats got off to a 9-19 start, and just like that, Larry Brown resigned. With Kwame Brown starting the majority of games for the team at center, Larry Brown saw the writing on the wall and skipped town, leaving Paul Silas to cover for him. The Bobcats fell to 34-48 and began to rebuild, first by shipping Gerald Wallace to the Portland Trail Blazers, and then by trading Stephen Jackson in the offseason. The Bobcats did manage to procure Kemba Walker in the 2011 draft.
In a strike-shortened season, the Charlotte Bobcats lost their final 23 games and finished with an astounding 7-59 record, giving them the lowest winning percentage of any team in history -- lower than even the 1972-73 Sixers, who lost 73 games. The '11-12 Bobcats could genuinely be the worst team in the history of the NBA; Basketball-Reference lists them as having both the worst offense AND the worst defense in the league that year. They averaged only 87 points per game, lost 22 games by at least 20 points and nine games by at least 30 points. And although we don't know how they would've fared over an 82-game schedule, they did have the worst NBA record ever through 66 games.
And for all that ineptitude, the Bobcats didn't even land the No. 1 overall pick. They got stuck with the No. 2 pick and again fell one spot shy of winding up with the best player in the draft: Anthony Davis, who went to -- that's right -- the New Orleans Hornets. The Bobcats settled on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was Davis' teammate out of Kentucky. Kidd-Gilchrist would fail to live up to his draft status, and to make matters worse, the Bobcats passed up a bunch of players who'd have been better suited to go No. 2: Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Andre Drummond, Terrence Ross and Harrison Barnes.
The 2012-13 Bobcats were mostly terrible, but for a very brief, confounding instant, they were okay. They started the year with a 7-5 record, equaling their win total from the previous year in just 12 games. Many attributed their success to new coach Mike Dunlap, who looked like he was going to be a Coach of the Year candidate. But things went south in a hurry after that. The Bobcats lost their next 18 games and eventually finished with a 21-61 record, second-worst in the league. By the end of the year, Dunlap had grown so unpopular with the players that he was fired after just one season.
There was one bright spot for the Bobcats, though. The New Orleans Hornets announced they were becoming the New Orleans Pelicans, and with the "Hornets" nickname suddenly available, Michael Jordan announced that the Bobcats would be changing their name to the Hornets for the 2014-15 season, to the chagrin of nobody, except maybe Bob Johnson.
With the improvement of Kemba Walker and the free-agent signing of Al Jefferson, the Bobcats returned to the playoffs this season. But there's only so far you can go when you're facing the Miami Heat in the first round. Soon, all traces of the Bobcats will fade from existence. The "Bobcats" will no longer be listed as a team on ESPN or NBA.com. Rufus, their orange-colored mascot, will no longer be employed, and the SB Nation Bobcats blog Rufus on Fire will no doubt be renamed to something more Hornets-y sounding, like At The Hive. (Although, it'd be kind of awesome if they defiantly stuck with their current name, even though future readers would be like, "Who the hell is Rufus?") Still, before we reach the end, let's embrace the name Bobcats one last time, in honor of Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor, Stephen Jackson, Raymond Felton and all their other marginal players whose services will soon be lost in the great ether.