LAS VEGAS — Charlotte is the home of the Hornets once again.
The NBA unanimously approved Charlotte's nickname change from Bobcats to Hornets on Thursday at the league's Board of Governors meeting. The original Hornets built a supportive fan base in Charlotte from the time they entered the league in 1988 until they moved to New Orleans in 2002.
But the new owners in New Orleans have changed the team's name to the Pelicans. That opened the door for owner Michael Jordan to bring the Hornets name back to Charlotte. The change will take place after the 2013-14 season.
"We're thrilled to bring back the Hornets to Charlotte and the Carolinas," Jordan said in a statement issued by the team. "The passion and enthusiasm around this name change by fans in this market has been unmatched. They overwhelmingly told us what they wanted, we listened and we couldn't be happier with the Board of Governors' approval of the name change. With the young team we are developing on the court, the direction of our business and the return of the Hornets name, we are extremely excited about our future. The buzz is back!"
The city, and the franchise, has been looking for a fresh start. The Hornets were a ticket-selling powerhouse for years, leading the league in attendance eight times and selling out 364 straight games in their turquoise, white and purple uniforms. The city bonded with a charismatic team that included such as stars Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson and fan favorite Muggsy Bogues.
But the franchise fell on hard times under previous owner George Shinn, who took to the team, and the Hornets name, to New Orleans. The NBA brought an expansion team back to Charlotte two years later, a team nicknamed the Bobcats in part due to founding owner Bob Johnson's name.
The brand never resonated with the people the way the Hornets did, in large part because the team only has had one winning season and one playoff appearance in its first nine years of existence. The Bobcats, with their nondescript orange and grey color scheme, won just seven games two years ago and only 21 last season. So they are hoping the energy brought by the name change, even if it will take another year to set in, will somehow help galvanize a young team.
"We want to reach back and grab some of that equity that the Hornets earned in our community," Charlotte COO Fred Whitfield said. "They did a lot of great things off the court. They were involved in the community. They became very accessible to the Charlotte fans and citizens of Charlotte. We want to reach back and grab some heritage and use it as we move forward to build a brand with our young team that continues to improve."
The Bobcats' website hailed the return of "Buzz City" and team officials said 2,000 season-ticket holders turned out at a downtown party that turned into a celebration of the name change. Bogues and other former Hornets including Rex Chapman, Kelly Tripucka, Dell Curry and Kendall Gill attended as well.
Commissioner David Stern said that he had heard pleas from Charlotte basketball fans for years to give them back the Hornets nickname, and he initially brushed those aside with a "get over it" view of the complaining. In time, however, he came to understand how important the name was to the community.
"It stayed there, bubbling below the surface, and there is something to it," Stern said. "I think that the team is going to receive support from fans who think that this is a step in the direction that the fans have been asking for, and this is an attempt to both satisfy the fans and its accompanied by a kind of very specific market research that allows the Hornets to say, yes, this is what the market is asking for and they're very much serving their market by making this change."
The board also gave final approval to several rules changes, most notably expanding instant replay in the final two minutes to help officials with the block/charge call, perhaps the most difficult judgment in the game. If an official reviews a play to see if a defender's feet were in the restricted area or not on a block/charge, the official can now also review whether the defender's feet were set for a charge or if his body was still moving for a blocking foul.
"You always try to level the playing field and basically get it right," said Kiki Vandeweghe, the league's new vice president of basketball operations. "That's the main focus is getting calls right."
Officials now will also be able to review whether an off-the-ball foul occurred before or after a player started his shooting motion on a made shot, or before or after an inbounds pass. And during any review, the referees will also be able to now decide if any unsportsmanlike or "unnecessary" acts, including flagrant fouls, merit further punishment.
Two rules changes were adopted as well:
—It will no longer be a clear path foul if the defender gets ahead of the offensive player in the frontcourt before the foul is committed.
—If a player on offense stands out of bounds on purpose to create more spacing for his teammates, the offensive team will lose possession of the ball.