What is the Charlotte Hornets, really?

The nickname is coming back. The colors are coming back. The logo — yet to be defined — almost certainly will be similar to the original logo. I’d wager Hugo, the Hornets mascot, will return as well.

So what is the Charlotte Hornets, really? Is it a collection of colors, logos, pinstripes and fonts?

No. It was the people.

The REAL Charlotte Hornets was the staff of the team. It was the people that made the environment that the fans so enjoyed. It was the folks that worked tirelessly to make the gameday experience what it was, and it was those same folks that served the community that adored them. It was the people that came up with the buzz meter, the folks that played eclectic music, the workers that worked long hours to make the gameday experience what it was.

The Bobcats are changing the shell by giving the team a brand new coat of paint, but that really doesn’t bring back the Charlotte Hornets, does it?

Granted, the Bobcats do an above average job of providing the fans a great gameday atmosphere, but it’s not the same. Rufus, the Bobcats’ mascot, has been all but forgotten this year. Perhaps that’s by design, hoping that the phasing him out will ease the transition to Hugo.

A friend of mine pointed out this week how Hugo was the star of the show. Everything that wasn’t basketball action was centered around Hugo, and fans loved it.

Don’t think so? Then how come so many 20 and 30-somethings have such an affinity for a team that left them high and dry over a decade ago? Hugo started that affinity for them as children, and they appreciated him as they grew older.

How cool was Super Hugo?

Do you remember how he’d jump off the trampoline and make amazing dunks?

Didn’t you want to do that yourself in the back yard?

For me, it was the ability to go and get a Polaroid with a player and get his autograph. I had my photo taken with JR Reid and Richard Anderson.

I had a teal, white and purple basketball that I wore the heck out of, until the knobby rubber turned slick and thin.

I played basketball for the Jr. Hornets.

It was also the posters in the Observer, which were full page illustrations done by staff artist Al Phillips. It was these illustrations that helped propel me into my career today as an illustrator and designer.

That is what the Charlotte Hornets is. It’s not a color scheme and a logo. It’s a feeling. It’s an emotion. It’s effort.

It’s people.

The Bobcats have to create that same environment again. They have to make this a team that fans want to fall in love with. They have to do more than just shoot T-shirts into the stands. They’ve got to do more than just show fans on the scoreboard video screens while DJ Complete drops some beats.

It’s Big Pat, the Bobcats’ PA Announcer, calling the game with his own flare and nicknames (G-G-G-G-G GERALD! WALLACE!-wallace-wallace). It’s Rufus (or Hugo) riding the ridiculously small bicycles. It’s the inflatable Rufus (or Hugo) that falls over and bounces on his head. It’s pre-game meet and greets with Bobcats players. It’s the basetball that a kid gets for free and allows him to spend countless hours in his driveway replaying the game over and over.

THAT’s what the new Charlotte Hornets will be.