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George Shinn: Ultimate Buzzkill

June 1, 2011

The Charlotte Hornets are my favorite NBA team. Present tense. I know the Hornets play in New Orleans now and Charlotte received an expansion team. I don’t care. I’m still coming off the high of first-round playoff upsets in 2001 and 2002, when a soon-to-be-relocated franchise donned headbands and played with abandon before ultimately succumbing to the reality of the peaks and troughs of its playing style.

The trough is the end of the story, though – for the full effect, we have to start on the way to the peak, in the 1988-89 season, when I was a yet-unjaded 2-year-old concerned more with dump trucks than Kelly Tripucka. Had I been conscious of things like professional basketball, I would have noticed that there was something special about this team.

Sting protection.

The Hornets wore pinstripes when nobody in the NBA wore pinstripes. The Orlando Magic followed by adopting pinstripes for their inaugural season, and the Bulls, Raptors, Rockets, and Pacers joined the trend throughout the 1990s.

The Hornets wore teal when nobody in professional sports wore teal, and after that lesser-known color barrier was broken, the Vancouver Grizzlies entered the league with teal jerseys, and then the Detroit Pistons started wearing teal too (against the wishes of many of their fans). A few years later the Mighty Ducks and Sharks entered the NHL with teal color schemes, and Major League Baseball saw the Marlins, Rays, and Diamondbacks include teal in their debut uniforms (though the Rays really used a gradient in tribute to Microsoft Word Art, and it only included a bit of teal).

Teal, the color of the era. Is that Jerry Seinfeld modeling?

Two of the five NBA players who had their talent stolen in Space Jam were Charlotte Hornets (Muggsy Bogues and Larry Johnson). The Nickelodeon show My Brother and Me, set in Charlotte, featured Hornets gear and even a player cameo (“Oh my God, it’s Kendall Gill!”).

Charlotte  Coliseum (known fondly as The Hive) was the largest arena in the NBA (capacity 24,042) in one of the league’s smallest economic markets, and THEY SOLD IT OUT FOR 358 CONSECUTIVE GAMES. Read that again – that’s nearly 9 seasons of 41 home games each, with every ticket sold. They beat the Boston Celtics in the first playoff series in franchise history on a game-winning shot by Alonzo Mourning.

Oh, and Hugo the Hornet was available as a player in NBA Jam ’94.

Busy bee.

Have I made my point? Everything was great. Everything was perfect. I had an awesome Charlotte Hornets hat that I wore like gang colors, and everyone else at school had an enormous, puffy Charlotte Hornets Starter jacket. After several seasons of losing in teal-and-purple fashion, the team was consistently in the playoffs, and had become the new frontier for the NBA, a success story that would convince the league to expand even further.

Hornets owner George Shinn had won over the city of Charlotte by converting it into a basketball-mad hive of enthusiasm, and at times was named as a potential candidate for governor of North Carolina. But names have a terrible tendency to be strikingly appropriate – George Shinn was about to trip himself and bring down all that he had built.

I’ve always assumed that the Hornets got their name because Charlotte is called the Queen City (hornets serve their queen, ya know?). The internet says that’s actually not the source of the name, but let’s roll with it, okay?

George Shinn brought the NBA to the Queen City, and the team was named after an insect that lives in a matriarchal, female-dominated society, but Shinn was accused of things that were, well, less than respectful to females. It was seemingly natural then, that when George Shinn faced trial for rape in 1999, the hive turned on him. The trial was ultimately rejected by a jury, but admission of extramarital affairs on CourtTV national broadcasts devastated his public image.

Ridiculed and humiliated, Shinn felt he couldn’t face the public. He withdrew from engagements and made little attempt to salvage the buzz he had created. He feuded with fans over unused season tickets, and with no foreseeable resolution to his troubled relationship with the city’s management over a deal for a new arena, he developed plans to move the team to New Orleans. The move was finalized following the 2001-2002 season, even while the Hornets were still alive in the playoffs, having reached the second round for the second consecutive season.

We’ll never know if George Shinn raped his accuser, but there’s no doubt that life subsequently forced its irony on the fans of the Charlotte Hornets. First of all, did anyone notice that sexual shame drove George Shinn to move his team to a city widely (if also misleadingly) known as a hotbed of debauchery and topless women?

If we move, we can give out Mardi Gras calendars!

Next, in fall 2005, three years after losing its beloved basketball team to the bayou, the Charlotte Coliseum served as host for New Orleans evacuees after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, completing the circle in poetically ugly fashion.

Lastly, and most unbelievably, several attention-hungry religious figures attributed Hurricane Katrina to divine retribution for sexual immorality. I don’t believe that God wasted a split second of thought on George Shinn, but it almost seems scripted in this context.

Hornet nests don’t survive the winter, and fittingly, absent of tenants, The Hive was demolished in 2007. George Shinn has not returned to Charlotte since the move to New Orleans (seriously), and the Charlotte Hornets haven’t lost a game without him.

Let’s not talk about the Bobcats.

For more, check out this slideshow on the intertwined paths of Charlotte, George Shinn, and the Hornets franchise:


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