The NBA is coming to ACC country and fans in this basketball crazy area feel like Santa has brought them an extra present.
“The mood is an air of excitement now that it’s coming closer, an outpouring of support and warm feeling,” said Carl Scheer, general manager of the Charlotte Hornets.
“It’s like Christmas Eve. It’s a very exciting time for those of us who have been in the business a long time,” he said. “To see how this town has embraced the Hornets is really heart-warming.”
The Hornets along with the Miami Heat are the new kids on the NBA block this season.
When the league first started talking about expansion Charlotte wasn’t given much of a chance. One writer said the only franchise the city could attrack would have golden arches in front of it.
Part of the reason was the feeling that the Atlantic Coast Conference, one of the elite college basketball conferences, had a monopoly on the area.
But entrepreneur George Shinn didn’t give up. He pleaded his case, urged the city to back him and sold season tickets even before the NBA met to consider his bid.
In the spring of 1987, the NBA board of governors placed Charlotte among its four expansion selections and Charlotteans bought 15,000 season tickets for a new, 23,000-seat arena officially opened in August.
Opening night is Nov. 4 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. So far, 12 games are at or near sellout level, especially games with the Chicago Bulls and former North Carolina star Michael Jordan.
Hornets officials are aware, however, that fans here are used to good basketball.
“I’m sure at some point, they will want to see some improvement,” said Scheer, who was also general manager of the Carolina Cougars of the old American Basketball Association.
‘We’re trying to set our expectations at a realistic level.”
The first year may be even harder than anticipated for the Hornets, particularly because the center they chose in the expansion draft is inexperienced and the team did not pick a center in the regular NBA draft.
“I doubt if there are going to be a lot of quality big people because big people are in such short supply and there’s just very few people coming . . . out of college,” said Coach Dick Harter, who came to the team after serving as an assistant at Detroit and Indiana.
“It’s certainly much better to be a balanced team where if you have to be strong in one area, it’s better to be strong underneath and lack the shooting outside,” Harter says. “But since we don’t have that, we’re going to have to take advantage of what we do have.”
For now, Charlotte’s game is built on the perimeter and on the wings. Harter had hoped to work with former Cleveland Cavalier Dell Curry as a shooting guard, but a broken left wrist will keep him out of action until next year. Kelly Tripucka, traded to the Hornets from Utah in the expansion draft phase, is looking to put the spark back into a seven-year career which hit a wall last season while with the Jazz.
Veteran Robert Reid, obtained from Houston in a trade, has a good outside touch and, with Tripucka, brings nearly 20 years of playing experience to the Hornets. Both can switch between the forward and guard spots.
Kurt Rambis came to the Hornets in July, having watched his playing time diminish during his last two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. Though not a scorer, Rambis is a rebounder and Harter will need it for an inside game lacking one key ingredient. Eight-year veteran Earl Cureton and rookie Brian Rowsom will help with the inside game.
“We hope they will be a very positive influence (for) us. Certainly through the early part, they have been that,” Harter says.
Charlotte drafted Arizona’s Tom Tolbert and Auburn’s Jeff Moore to beef up inside. Tolbert is in camp; Moore took the idea of beefing up seriously and got too far out of shape to be ready for the 1988-89 season.
In the backcourt, Harter has taken long looks at Michael Holton and Rickey Green. Chosen from Portland in the expansion draft, Holton has averaged just 5.9 points per game in stints with Phoenix, Chicago and the Trail Blazers.
Green spent eight seasons with Utah and has a 10-point career scoring average as a playmaker.
The Hornets also got Tyrone Bogues from Washington, bringing the 5-foot-4 player back to familiar surroundings. Bogues played his college ball at Wake Forest, about 90 minutes north of Charlotte.
From the draft came Kentucky’s Rex Chapman, chosen first. The 6-4 Chapman reported to camp late after prolonged contract talks and hasn’t completely learned the system.