Today, our fabulous and troubled Hornets beat the defending NBA champion Lakers 109-100. The Lakers have won 16 championships, second only to the Boston Celtics, and have played 15 other Finals. The Hornets have been through a lot this season and keep rising above.
The city and the Hornets have had trouble connecting as the city used to be represented by the New Orleans Jazz, one of 3 teams who’ve never lost 60 games in a season (the other 2 are the Knicks and the Lakers). Established in 1974, the team moved to Utah in 1979. As someone who watched the Baltimore Colts leave under cover of night to move to Indianapolis, I understand the nostalgia/hate feelings that can engender.
The Hornets began in North Carolina in 1988 and moved to New Orleans in 2001. Lets face it – the team name never fit the town. And there’s only one reason Utah is known for Jazz. Mixed feelings ensued. Then Katrina hit and the team had to relocate to Oklahoma City where they became the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. That’s a mouthful. The team returned in 2007 but things were slow to gel until the Head Coach of 15 years made way for Monty Williams, the youngest Head Coach in the league, and General Manager Dell Demps.
Williams reshaped the team and led them to a record setting winning streak to open the season. But, troubles continued. George Shinn, the owner, opted to sell the team while facing prostate cancer. There were buyers, but they wanted to move the now-winning team away. Shinn had brought the team back from Oklahoma City, despite excellent ticket sales, because he believed the team was good for the city. The Hornets participated in rebuilding playgrounds and homes as well as helping the city’s homeless.
Ticket sales here have been iffy at best. Even with this record breaking season, there are usually tickets available and they’ve sold for as little as $4. Oracle founder, Larry Ellison, offered Shinn $350 million to take the team to San Jose, CA. Shinn, 70, who plans to donate most of his fortune to charity anyway, said no. The NBA decided, for the first time in league history, to step in and buy the team temporarily for $300 million until a buyer willing to keep the team here could be found, but only if the seats got filled. Businesses bought blocks of tickets and worried about filling them later. In late January, people came together and bought enough tickets to ensure that the team would stay in the city.
The “I’m In!” advertising campaign was born featuring everyone from John Besh and Mayor Mitch Landrieu to Drew Brees and the 610 Stompers.
There are billboards and commercials and it seems to be working. The city doesn’t suit up the way it does for Saints game day, but I keep seeing people, especially kids, with “I’m In” buttons and t-shirts. During French Quarter Fest, I spotted an entire family carrying hand-done second line umbrellas – white with blue and gold boas and beads and Hornets logos.
So today, the Hornets beat the Lakers and I was glad. Glad because I love an underdog as much as the next guy and because I’ve attended more of their games than any other basketball team in my life and glad because I like that little old New Orleans beat the shiny winners of Los Angeles. Yeah, maybe it’s personal and therefore petty to like that my new home beat my old home, but there you have it. And the odds of them keeping this up are slim – but not none. We have tickets to see game 3 of the series this Friday but I gave my seat away to a visitor coming in from L.A. that day (still hoping to go to game 4). But I’ll be there in spirit because when an owner takes a $50 million hit to keep a team here and the NBA pays $300 million to keep them here and then the team just keeps on winning amidst all the uncertainty – I’m in!