The Charlotte Hornets are an American professional basketball team based in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Hornets compete in the National Basketball Association (NBA), as a member of the league's Eastern Conference Southeast Division. The team is largely owned by retired NBA player Michael Jordan, who acquired a controlling interest in the team in 2010.
The original Hornets franchise was established in 1988 as an expansion team, owned by George Shinn. In 2002, Shinn's franchise relocated to New Orleans and became the New Orleans Hornets. In 2004, the NBA established the Charlotte Bobcats, which was regarded as a new expansion team at the time. In 2013, the New Orleans franchise announced it would rebrand itself the New Orleans Pelicans, ultimately returning the Hornets name, records, and official history (spanning from 1988 to 2002) to Charlotte. The Bobcats were officially renamed the Charlotte Hornets for the 2014–15 season.
In 1985, the NBA was planning to expand by three teams by the 1988–1989 season, later modified to include a total of four expansion teams. George Shinn, an entrepreneur from Kannapolis, wanted to bring an NBA team to the Charlotte area, and he assembled a group of prominent local businessmen to head the prospective franchise. The Charlotte area had long been a hotbed for college basketball. Charlotte was also one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, and was previously one of the three in-state regional homes to the American Basketball Association's Carolina Cougars from 1969 to 1974.
Despite doubt from critics, Shinn's ace in the hole was the Charlotte Coliseum, a state-of-the-art arena that would seat almost 24,000 spectators – the largest basketball-specific arena ever to serve as a full-time home for an NBA team. On April 5, 1987, then-NBA Commissioner David Stern called Shinn to tell him his group had been awarded the 24th NBA franchise, to begin play in 1988. Franchises were also granted to Miami, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and Orlando.
Originally, the new team was going to be called the Charlotte Spirit, but a name-the-team contest yielded "Hornets" as the winning choice. The team received further attention when it chose teal as its primary color, setting off a sports fashion craze in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The team's uniforms, designed by international designer and North Carolina native Alexander Julian, featured a first for NBA uniforms—pin stripes. Similar designs by other teams followed, as they became a hit.
The Hornets' first NBA game took place on November 4, 1988, at the Charlotte Coliseum, losing 133–93 to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Four days later, the team notched its first-ever victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, 117–105. On December 23, 1988, the Hornets really gave their fans something to cheer about, beating Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls 103–101 in Jordan's first return to North Carolina as a professional. The Hornets finished their inaugural season with a record of 20–62.
Despite initial concerns that the Coliseum was too big, the Hornets were a runaway hit, leading the NBA in attendance, a feat they would achieve seven more times in Charlotte. Eventually, the Hornets would sell out 364 consecutive games.
Before the Hornets were eliminated from the 2002 playoffs, the NBA approved a deal for the team to move to New Orleans following the season. The move came mainly because attendance tailed off dramatically, reportedly due to Shinn's declining popularity in the city.
Shortly after the relocation of the team to New Orleans, the NBA opened itself to the possibility of adding a replacement team in Charlotte for the 2004–05 season, given an arena deal could be reached. Several ownership groups, including one led by former Boston Celtics star Larry Bird, made bids for the franchise. On December 18, 2002, a group led by BET founder Robert L. Johnson was awarded the franchise, allowing him to become the first majority African American owner in U.S. major professional sports since the Negro leagues. The franchise with Johnson as its owner was approved by the NBA Board of Governors on January 10, 2003. Hip-hop artist Nelly became a notable co-owner. The owners paid a $300 million expansion fee to enter the league.
In June 2003, the team name was officially announced as the Bobcats. The Charlotte Regional Sports Commission aided the naming process with a "Help Name The Team" effort that drew over 1,250 suggestions, with 'Flight' being the winner. However, it was discarded by Johnson and the team involved in creating the team's identity, being considered abstract and reminiscent of the then-current Iraq War aerial strikes. Given Charlotte was already home to a cat-named team, the Carolina Panthers of the National Football League, designer Chris Weiller made sure to create a logo that would not be similar to the Panthers logo. It has also been speculated that Johnson chose the name "Bobcats" in reference to his own name.
On February 27, 2010, it was announced that Johnson had decided to sell the team to Michael Jordan, allowing Jordan to become the first former NBA player to become a majority owner of a franchise.
On May 21, 2013, Jordan officially announced the organization had submitted an application to change the name of the franchise to the Charlotte Hornets for the 2014–15 NBA season, pending a majority vote for approval by the NBA Board of Governors at a meeting in Las Vegas on July 18, 2013. The NBA announced, on July 18, 2013, that it had unanimously approved the rebranding, which would begin upon the conclusion of the 2013–14 season. The Bobcats announced on November 22, they would adopt a modified version of the original Hornets' teal-purple-white color palette, with black, gray and Carolina blue as accents.