The Charlotte Hornets are back. For the first time since the original Hornets franchise relocated to New Orleans after the 2001-2002 season, there is now a team in Charlotte with that namesake. It became official during the NBA draft lottery on Tuesday.
From 1988-2002, the Hornets, as one of the most recent expansion teams, lived in mediocrity. There were some high points and there were some low points. With Hornets basketball now back in Charlotte, we thought it made sense to check in on the four-most memorable moments in Charlotte Hornets franchise history.
1. Trade Draft Rights of Kobe Bryant to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vlade Divac
Sorry Hornets fans, but this is memorable for all the wrong reasons. Following a .500 season in 1995-1996 that saw the Hornets struggle big time from the inside, they decided to do something about it heading into the summer months. On the day of the 1996 NBA draft, Charlotte agreed to select then Lower Merion product Kobe Bryant in order to trade him to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vlade Divac.
While this deal made a ton of sense at the time it went down, what happened following the trade goes down as one of the most infamous in Hornets franchise history. Divac played just two seasons with Charlotte, helping it win 50-plus games each year, before moving on to the Sacramento Kings. Do we really need to get into what Bryant did from the time he made his NBA debut in the fall of 1996? I didn’t think so.
2. First Game: November 4, 1988
Along with Miami, Charlotte was awarded an expansion franchise in April of 1987. About 18 months later, the first professional basketball team in North Carolina since the Carolina Cougars of the ABA in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, played a game. Charlotte would go on to lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers 133-93. Kelly Tripucka and Kurt Rambis led the Hornets in scoring with 16 points each.
3. Select Alonzo Mourning No. 2 Overall in 1992 NBA Draft
We were going to go with Larry Johnson here, but Mourning’s recent induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame makes him a logical choice. Coming off a 1991-1992 season that saw Charlotte win the most games in its short history (31), it defied all odds by acquiring the No. 2 overall pick after being given just a six percent chance of selecting in the top three. This guaranteed the Hornets a chance to nab either Shaquille O’Neal or Mourning. When the Orlando Magic picked up O’Neal, it was obvious who Charlotte was going to take.
In three up-and-down seasons with the Hornets, Mourning earned two All-Star appearances and helped them win 50 games in 1994-1995. More than his on-court success, Mourning along with running partner Larry Johnson, put Charlotte on the national map for the first time.
4. Upset Boston Celtics in First Ever Trip to NBA Playoffs
This was quite impressive. Taking on a Boston Celtics team that had a dozen more NBA championships than the Hornets had years of existence in the NBA, Charlotte pulled off an upset in the first round of the playoffs. The biggest win came in Game 2 with the Hornets defeating Boston 99-98 in double overtime at the famed Garden. Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson combined for 41 points 18 rebounds and six assists in that game.
Charlotte would go on to lose to the New York Knicks in five games in the Eastern Conference semifinals, but this one series represented a high point for a franchise that didn’t have many.