I know what you all are going to say: CHARLOTTE?!
I know Charlotte doesn’t have the reputation of having a cursed city because in the professional sports world they are a fairly young city with their sports teams. However, we have to remember that save for a couple of years Charlotte has held an NBA team for nearly 30 seasons and an NFL team for 24 seasons now.
Charlotte has seen teams come and go with high hopes and ultimate disappointment in both the NBA scene and the NFL scene. But if you’ve ever been to Charlotte, the fans go all in on supporting their teams and have really seen some heartbreaks through their city with the Hornets/Bobcats and the Panthers so today we will look at the Queen City’s princes, the Charlotte Hornets and the Carolina Panthers
CURSED TEAMS RESUME: CHARLOTTE HORNETS/BOBCATS: 0 NBA CHAMPIONSHIPS IN 29 SEASONS; NO CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS, NO DIVISION TITLES, NO EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS APPEARANCES
CAROLINA PANTHERS: 0 SUPER BOWLS IN 24 SEASONS, 2 SUPER BOWL APPEARANCES
TOTAL OF 0 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
CHARLOTTE HORNETS: Charlotte had started a trend that people forget: the teal craze. The Hornets were the one to start the teal craze in professional sports. Miami I guess you could say had it first but it was more of the aqua look. Anyway, early on that is what all the Hornets had going for them. They were not that good. However by the third year, Charlotte landed the 1st overall pick in the 1991 NBA Draft with UNLV’s star player Larry Johnson. In his first year Johnson’s impact at power forward was felt, though the Hornets still had depth issues on the roster and went 31-51. Charlotte had benefited from another ping pong ball go their way in the 1992 NBA Draft lottery, getting the second overall pick and selected Georgetown star Alonzo Mourning. With Johnson’s explosiveness and Mourning’s physicality and intensity, the trend was going up.
In Mourning’s first season in Charlotte, the Hornets went 44-38 and made the playoffs for the very first time in franchise history. They took down the Celtics, who were ending the great dynasty squads that year on a game-winning shot by Mourning to send the Hornets in the 2nd round of the playoffs as they were bounced by the Knicks. The trend and hope that the Hornets were moving on up into the NBA’s top tier squads was increasing. And Charlotte started to take note that they had a special team with Johnson, Mourning, and the 5’3 Muggsy Bogues. The Hornets even placed a mural of their Big Three on the side of a building in downtown Charlotte, as Hornet fever really came into play while Johnson was becoming a budding superstar notably for his “Grandmama” commercials for Converse.
After the season, Charlotte gave Johnson a 12-year, $84 million contract (feels like chump change given these salaries the NBA players get now, but at the time it was huge). However, Johnson suffered a back injury in the 1993-1994 season and somewhat de-railed the Hornets upward trend and failed to make the playoffs in 1994. Johnson’s back had took away the explosiveness from him, but had become more of a shooter and found ways to be an effective player despite that lack of explosiveness we had come to know. Johnson played all but one game in the 1994-1995 season and Mourning was becoming one of the best big men in the league as the Hornets had their first 50-win season in 1995, but fell to the Michael Jordan-led Bulls in 4 games.
After the season there was a disgruntled center in Alonzo Mourning who rejected a massive contract extension to stay and rumors persisted that Johnson and Mourning were not seeing eye to eye and things were tense ultimately ended hope of Charlotte having a Johnson/Mourning/Bogues led championship. Mourning was traded to Miami for players Glen Rice, Matt Geiger, and Khalid Reeves. Charlotte missed out on the playoffs for the second time in three years (and one game back from Mourning’s Heat squad), but many felt the Hornets didn’t play bad. Johnson, despite the limitations to his play because of his back, still put out 40+ minutes and 81 games and still did his thing.
After the season, Charlotte overhauled their roster. They traded Larry Johnson to New York for for the tough, physical Anthony Mason and traded Kobe Bryant to the Lakers for Vlade Divac on draft night. “They had Kobe?!” Yes Verbal, they had Kobe (if you get the Verbal reference, then you are awesome in my book). People blew off Charlotte’s team because the superstars they used to have in Johnson and Mourning weren’t there anymore. However, what they added was a far more rounded lineup than when Johnson and Mourning were there. Rice in this time period became probably the best shooter in the NBA and had an MVP year in 96-97. Mason, known more for his defense and playing physical, became an all-around player of getting points, rebounds and dishing out assists as the “Point Forward” craze was happening (Scottie Pippen for the Bulls and Grant Hill for the Pistons were also considered them as they really ran point for the offenses of their teams). Divac was also a double-double guy with Matt Geiger coming off the bench to score and rebound with another shooter in Dell Curry (son of Steph) coming off the bench to score double digits with his shooting prowess. Charlotte won a franchise high 54 games in 1996-1997 but were swept out by the Knicks and their old friend Larry Johnson.
Charlotte added more the next year by replacing Bogues for an adequate point guard in David Wesley and added shooting guard Bobby Phills to their roster as well to bolster the backcourt play and take pressure off the forwards and the big men. They won 50 games with the balanced and deep roster they had, and beat Atlanta in the first round in 4 games. But Charlotte ran into the Jordan-Pippen-Rodman Bulls team in the second round. Despite stealing a game in Chicago in Game 2 they had no answer for the Bulls and lost the next three games. Despite the good years happening in Charlotte after the post-Johnson/Mourning era, the Hornets gate attendance in Charlotte Coliseum started to wane as their sellout streak ended early on in the season and didn’t even sell out their first round games to Atlanta. Odd given the team’s successes in the past few years.
The attendance then waned more as in the off-season (when the 1998-1999 lockout ended) Charlotte lost Vlade Divac (Sacramento), Matt Geiger (Philadelphia), and Dell Curry (Milwaukee) to free agency. Worse, Mason missed the entire season because of a bicep injury and Rice was dealing with elbow issues and wanted out as well. Much like the years of LJ and Zo, the Hornets traded Rice (who didn’t play at all in 1999 for the Hornets) and JR Reid for Elden Campbell and Eddie Jones, who served as great returns for Charlotte. Despite the losses of Rice, Divac, Curry, and Mason, Charlotte still put up a competitive squad and got over a sluggish 4-11 start to go 22-13 the rest of the way, but failed to make the playoffs. Again they added depth in the likes of Derrick Coleman, Brad Miller, Chuck Person, and Chucky Brown to help out. But the attendance continued to wane.
The Hornets, despite the failed chance of a playoff did strike gold in the draft as the ping-pong ball once again netted them a top three pick and drafted star point guard Baron Davis. That said, Davis didn’t make an impact in his rookie year but the roster was still very deep with Jones, Mason (who returned from his injury), Wesley, Miller, and Phills. However, the Hornets lost Bobby Phills in a life-ending car accident during the season as it was found out he & Wesley were driving at fast speeds around the Charlotte area. It stung the Hornets badly though they made the playoffs once more in 2000 and had 49 wins. But Charlotte could not overcome the 76ers in the first round of the playoffs.
After the season, Charlotte made a big move to their roster (again), trading Mason & Jones to Miami for PJ Brown and Jamal Mashburn. The depth remained with the Hornets and Mashburn led the team in scoring and Brown with rebounding while Davis was coming into his own at guard. They finished 46-36 and got the 6th seed in the playoffs. Charlotte swept the Jones-Mason-Mourning crew of the Heat before pushing Milwaukee to 7 games (and a shot at winning the series in 6 but a home loss doomed the Hornets).
Charlotte in the 2001-02 season had kept quiet with major moves but Jamal Mashburn was injured and missed half of the season due to it and made only one key move which was acquiring defensive wiz George Lynch from Philadelphia in a 3-team trade (Coleman was shipped back to Sixers). Charlotte went 44-38 but in a far weaker Eastern Conference they held homecourt in the first round, beating Orlando but being easily bounced by New Jersey.
And then the Hornets moved to New Orleans. George Shinn was the major reason why the Hornets moved because it seemed like he never liked Charlotte (why? It’s a great town!) However, he up and moved the team after the 2002 season. But also, in the early-to-mid 90’s the Hornets had the highest attendance in the league thanks to the 24,000 seat Coliseum and were selling out games. However, with the stars coming and going and the feel of a high turnover rate on the roster, the Hornets attendance started to dip tremendously as in the early 2000’s they found themselves in the bottom of the attendance. Shinn wanted a new arena because he felt it was too big and wasn’t updated enough (funny as he claimed that the fans would come out in the basketball crazy Tar Heel State).
Charlotte was without a basketball team for two seasons, but returned for the 2004-05 season. As New Orleans still held the Hornets, their old name couldn’t be used, but the new ownership of Robert Johnson (founder of the BET Network) opted to choose the name of Bobcats (instead of the original fan vote of Flight). Some viewed it as an ego trip for Johnson as he wanted the name the team for himself (and/or he wanted to keep up with the cat-themed run in Charlotte with the Panthers), but he claimed it was to avoid any confusion with the Iraq War that was going on. Whatever the case was, many felt a little angry the new ownership ignored the fans idea. Despite getting good young players through drafts and trades (Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor, Raymond Felton), the Bobcats never made much noise. Adding on, ironically, in their second season back, the Bobcats still weren’t drawing well in their new arena as the Hornets had in their old Coliseum (the Bobcats played in the old Coliseum for the first season and was near the bottom of attendance). It took 6 seasons for Charlotte to get back to the playoffs in part to more of a veteran bunch of Wallace, Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw, and others, coached by Larry Brown, who was considered one of the best coaches in NBA history (though suffered issues of commitment to teams he coached like Detroit, Indiana, the Clippers, and Philadelphia as well as he seemed “out of touch” with the game around this point). However, no momentum was sustained as the Bobcats fell out of contention including a miserable 7-59 year in 2012, and many viewed the team as the worst in NBA history.
However, the Bobcats gained some good talent through the draft with Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and signing Al Jefferson to actually sneak back in the playoffs in 2014, 2 years after the 7-59 season as well as new head coach Steve Clifford. They would make the playoffs in 2 of the next 3 years but lost in the first round to Miami both times.
The Bobcats changed back into the Hornets complete with the old colors and the final playoff run was with the Hornets name (thanks to New Orleans changing their name to the Pelicans) and bringing back the franchise books. However, this run of the Hornets haven’t been as impressive as they’ve been on the outside looking in the Eastern Conference. They haven’t been terrible, but off enough where they are not in the playoffs most years.
CURSED MOVE: While many believe trading away Kobe Bryant ultimately doomed the Hornets on the first go-around, I don’t see it that way. Now there has been talk of conspiracies such as the Lakers manipulating the draft to the point of making sure they got Kobe while adding Shaq by trading for Vlade Divac. Here’s my take: Charlotte COULD have kept Bryant and upped the demand. Whether Kobe threatening to move to Italy and play to avoid playing for Charlotte is true or not, the Hornets could have told the Lakers to up the ante besides just Divac. To me, it wasn’t the Kobe Bryant trade that was the cursed move. It was the Mourning trade that was the cursed move. Yes, Glen Rice came to Charlotte and had great years. But the Hornets in the mid-90’s were one of the most exciting teams in the NBA and must-see TV, for fans abroad and fans in Charlotte. But when the Mourning trade happened, Charlotte lacked that sting (no pun intended) and fans were not as excited to see the likes of Rice, Divac, and Mason like they wanted to for Johnson/Zo. Which really stunk because they had good teams. And the Coliseum went from being a loudhouse to a mausoleum as the years progressed, even though the Hornets were a far better team than those early teams.
DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: Well, it was the Kobe trade honestly. People knew Kobe would be a good player and may take some time to get there, but I don’t think anybody save Kobe himself would be the greatest player of an NBA generation. There are always factors of “well, would he have been a stud had he stayed in this team or whatnot?” But Kobe would have at least marked a great career if the Hornets had kept him. I honestly don’t know what the case was if Kobe never intended to play for the Hornets (I remembered rumors that Kobe never wanted to play for Charlotte when he got drafted by them), but I like to think that if Charlotte drafted, and kept, Kobe, the first version of the Hornets would have been the only version of the Hornets and who knows if they would have rolled with championships and that Kobe would have stayed.
CURSED RATING: 3/5 (CURSED): It’s easy to think that Charlotte is one of the irrelevant teams today in the NBA, but 20+ years ago, they were the team everybody wanted to cheer for and ranked up as one of the most popular teams, including Jordan and the Bulls. But there seemed to be some sort of roster issue that kept them from taking that next step to being a true Eastern Conference powerhouse. And right now, not even Michael Jordan himself (the owner) can get the Hornets going.
CAROLINA PANTHERS: The mid 90’s had to have been a fun time in Charlotte with the Hornets and then the hope of the Carolina Panthers in the NFL. Carolina started in 1995, but at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium as Ericsson Field (now known as Bank of America Stadium) was being built. In the first season in the NFL, the Panthers finished 7-9, an amazing feat for an expansion team. But they did a smart thing: they hired guys in the front office with not just experience, but winning experience. They brought in Bill Polian, who was the architect of the Buffalo Bills Super Bowl squads. Polian brought in a good portion of players from those Bills teams, notably Don Beebe, Frank Reich, and others while picking up seasoned veterans in the expansion draft such as corner Rod Smith, Greg Kragen, and Mark Carrier (and they also drafted a defensive tackle named Bill Goldberg-yes that Goldberg who dominated wrestling later on). They also took advantage of free agency as that picked up in the NFL and picked up star linebacker Sam Mills from the Saints and strong kicker Jon Kasay as well. The draft was solid as the Panthers drafted Kerry Collins, as many hoped he would be the face of the franchise.
In 1996, the Panthers added more with a strong defense, adding sack specialist, the energetic and intense Kevin Greene from Pittsburgh, excellent corner Eric Davis from San Francisco, tight end Wesley Walls from New Orleans, etc. while drafting running back Tim Biakabatuka from Michigan and Muhsin Muhammad from Michigan State to give Collins more weapons. Carolina built off their strong first season with a 12-4 record in the NFC West, ahead of the 49ers, who had practically ran that division since the early 80’s as well as going undefeated in their first year in Charlotte. They also received a first-round bye and getting the defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys, playing a very physical game on Dallas’s star players of Aikman, Smith, and Irvin (who broke his collarbone early on in that game) and also KO’ing Deion Sanders late in the game. The offense wasn’t flashy, but Collins, who earned Pro Bowl honors, played strong, throwing two TD’s to Willie Green and Wesley Walls and the Panthers took down Dallas. However, Carolina struggled in the frozen tundra the week after in Green Bay to a far more seasoned Packers team with Brett Favre, who was at the height of his dominance. There was hope in Carolina.
And the hope crashed in 1997. Collins broke his jaw in preseason and missed 3 games with it. Kevin Greene, entangled in a contract dispute was cut by Carolina and went to rival San Francisco, and the Panthers homefield was anything but an advantage in 97, losing 6 of 8 in what was a lost season, but really eliminated any momentum they had in 1996. The bottom fell out in 1998 as Collins had a lot of behavior issues and had no major drive to play football. After the 4th game where the Panthers got drilled by Atlanta 51-23 and it would be Collins’s last game in Carolina as he was put on waivers after his behavior. Carolina went with veteran Steve Buerlein to quarterback the rest of the way, and wasn’t a bad option, but the Panthers went 4-12 as the 4th year team was already aging and getting injured on top of it. Carolina fired Dom Capers as head coach and hired George Seifert to right the ship (as he won two Super Bowls with the 49ers). Seifert was a little more offensive minded as Buerlein had weapons in Walls, Muhammad, Patrick Jeffers, and Donald Hayes. They finished 8-8 in 1999, after a 3-6 start. However, the Panthers under Seifert did not build off the finish and was a middle- of-the-road team again in 2000 going 7-9.
Despite having what was an excellent draft in 2001, getting Dan Morgan, Steve Smith, and Kris Jenkins, Carolina fell to 1-15, losing 15 straight after their Week 1 win in Minnesota. The offense fell apart badly with Chris Weinke at QB and Seifert was gone after the mess of a season. John Fox came in the 2002 season to coach and made an impact with the young roster he had and another great year of draft picks such as Julius Peppers, DeShaun Foster, and Dante Wesley. Carolina went 7-9 thanks to a vastly improved defense, the formula that started the Panthers history with. One year later, the Panthers drafted excellent again, getting offensive lineman Jordan Gross and corner Ricky Manning while signing Jake Delhomme at quarterback to improve the offense which was helmed by the ageless Rodney Peete. Carolina stunned everybody in 2003 as they won the NFC South over the Bucs and smacked Dallas in the Wild Card round, but then went to St. Louis and stymied the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams in a rare double overtime game where Steve Smith showed he was one of the top receivers in the game and then going to Philadelphia and bullying the Eagles in the NFC Championship for their first Super Bowl appearance against the Patriots. The Panthers fought tooth and nail on New England but came up short in a back-and-forth game where Adam Vinatieri established himself as one of the greatest clutch kickers ever.
Two years later the Panthers put another run to the postseason as a Wild Card team as the NFC South was a dog-eat-dog division with both the Falcons, Saints, and Bucs all being competitive. They got in the playoffs despite Tampa Bay winning the division and put a run of shutting out the Giants in New York, stunning the Bears in Chicago, but coming up well short against a balanced Seahawks team in the NFC Championship.
The Panthers for the next few seasons hovered around the .500 mark (15-16-1), but strung up a nice run in 2008, going 12-4, fending off an upstart Falcons team in the South, and getting a bye in the playoffs. They had a young two-headed monster at running back with DeAngelo Williams and Jonahtan Stewart, who combined ran for 2,000+ yards with an amazing 28 touchdowns between them. On top of the running game, Delhomme threw for 3,000 yards and had Muhammad and Smith still being a deadly tandem at receiver. Add that Charles Johnson and Julius Peppers were terrorizing quarterbacks on opposing teams and many felt Carolina was a Super Bowl favorite. However, in the divisional round, the Panthers played the Cardinals as many thought it was a foregone conclusion Carolina would wallop the presumed weaker Arizona squad, who was only able to sneak in with a weak division at 9-7. But the Cardinals offense had knocked out the 11-5 Falcons the week before and they continued their offense of the Warner-to-Fitzgerald tandem hurt the Panthers as well as the running-back-by-committee group of Tim Hightower and Edgerrin James. The game was not even close as Arizona won 33-13 (Carolina scored a late TD that didn’t make it a complete blowout).
The loss really took the wind out of Carolina’s sails the next few seasons. The Panthers fell to 8-8 in 09 and then the bottom fell out as Delhomme ran out of use and the Panthers crashed to 2-14. But it netted them the first overall pick in the 2011 draft by getting Cam Newton.
Newton’s flashiness and showboat mentality ruffles the football purists even now, and even then it ruffled some of the Panthers players as when he was on, he was hot, but if the team was down he would sulk and not be that leader Carolina wanted. Cam is a gifted quarterback even then, but many felt his immaturity kept Carolina from going. But what was happening was that the Panthers re-vamped the defense and had a group of physical players like Johnson, Luke Kuechly, Greg Hardy, and others that were not only physical, but also rode that swagger of Cam as well. The Panthers strung up back-to-back division titles in 13 and 14 (despite being 7-8-1 in 2014), but their playoff runs were short-lived. They took a home loss to the defending NFC champion 49ers in the 2013 Divisional round as Cam was ridiculed for sulking after 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick mocked Cam’s Superman pose in the 2nd half when he scored a touchdown. In 2014, the Panthers won their Wild Card round at home to a depleted Cardinals squad but went to Seattle and lost to the Seahawks as Cam had and up-and-down game.
But in 2015, everything fell Carolina’s way. They took some key road wins notably in Seattle and had a big home win against the Packers while dominating the rest of the way as Cam had a great year both passing and running the ball to make the Panthers a balanced attack while the defense was stout from top to bottom with Johnson, Kuechly, Thomas Davis, with Kurt Coleman and Josh Norman who was becoming a rising star in the league at corner. Carolina went 15-1 and had no qualms about showing they were 15-1, celebrating and having a good old time beating teams to a pulp. And with their defense and Cam being the MVP, it had a foregone conclusion feel that they would hoist the Lombardi Trophy in early February after beating Seattle and dominating Arizona again in the playoffs.
However, Denver’s defense, ranked #1 in the league, even ahead of Carolina’s, had key turnovers against the Panthers as Carolina committed four turnovers (3 by Cam-2 fumbles and 1 INT), despite gaining over 300+ yards. 2 of the 4 Denver turnovers resulted into 14 points, which Denver beat Carolina 24-10. After the game, Cam didn’t do any favors to his character where many considered him immature as was by sulking and admitting he was a “poor sport.” Many also felt it was karma on the Panthers who talked, showboated, and “disrespected” their opponents on a weekly basis.
The next year, Carolina had hoped to reclaim their dominance, but instead of keeping Josh Norman around, they let the excellent corner go to Washington and Cam’s MVP attitude may have gotten the best of him as he was zeroed in on more touchdown celebrations than actual winning (so it felt like). And what you got was a Cam Newton that underachieved greatly in 2016, a defense that was shredded up in the air, and a team that just was flat in all aspects. The Panthers in 2017 focused back on the ground game and tried to get their defense turned back around while Cam showed improvements, but nothing like his MVP season. Carolina went 11-5 but lost in the opening round to New Orleans as their comeback fell short to their hated rivals in the Bayou.
CURSED MOVE: Letting Josh Norman walk. Whether they were unable to give him money or maybe the fact that it could have been a dislike between Norman and Newton (they had a fight during training camp, though all teams have fights), but it really set the Panthers defense back. But you don’t ever give up a guy like Norman in that manner. Ever.
DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: While I look at Von Miller forcing two fumbles on Cam in the Super Bowl and then Miller trolling Newton after with it as a cursed moment, I’ll fast forward to the season after when Cam and the Panthers went against Atlanta early on in the season. The Falcons were winning for most of the game, but Carolina scored and went for a two point conversion. Cam ran the ball in for the conversion, but as he did, he slowed up, trotted, and somewhat came off as being nonchalant/perhaps arrogant in doing so. Falcons linebacker Deion Jones obliterated Cam as he just crossed the plane as Cam’s head was away from Jones and never saw him. Cam went down and got up slowly and got a concussion in the process. It just seemed like after that hit, Carolina’s season and Cam’s stock fell. And the Panthers with Cam have that “fine line between confidence and arrogance” and they cross it a lot and they always pay for it in the end. The football gods may not like some of the nonsense Cam, or the Panthers do.
CURSED RATING: 3/5 (CURSED): Carolina has fielded teams over the seasons that should be in the mix for a Super Bowl, even dating back to their early years. But through injury, player issues (Collins, Rae Carruth, Greg Hardy), the swagger factor (Cam, and even before that with the likes of Steve Smith & others), it just seems like something derails the Panthers chances of a Super Bowl trophy in Charlotte. To me, in the recent years, Carolina comes off as a very arrogant football team thanks to Newton and many feel that the Panthers and their playoff/Super Bowl losses are the football gods way of revenge on them for being a little too over the top.
While Charlotte is a city that hasn’t seen a long run of professional sports teams like Atlanta, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and even New Orleans, they’ve seen their fair share of bad luck hit their way with their two major pro sports franchises. While the Panthers recent run of 4 playoffs in 5 seasons has gotten fans in the area excited, many feel the Panthers don’t have the same kind of roster as they had in 13-15. And the Hornets are really in a rut of not being very bad but not being that good. So it may be a while before we see any championship being hoisted in Charlotte.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat