Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hornets, Sonics, Pelicans and Kings: NBA's Looming Identity Crisis

Durant may be gone, but what about
the Sonics history?
The NBA will soon have an identity crisis.  No, not the position of who will replace Michael Jordan as Da Man (LeBron has taken that torch as of now) or even in less than one year when Adam Silver replaces David Stern after 30 years of heading up the NBA (though that will be quite an interesting change).

No, we could see the 2013-2014 NBA season open up with several new teams ... that were old teams ... that were older teams ... that may still be around or not ... or something.

(Hopefully) soon, the NBA will decide where the Sacramento Kings will be playing next season.  They were sold to a group that wants to move them to Seattle but Sacto mayor Kevin Johnson has glued together a last ditch proposal to keep them in the capital.  Meanwhile, down in the bayou, the New Orleans Hornets will be changing their name to the New Orleans Pelicans because, well, they seem to think it sounds better.  Due to that, the Charlotte Bobcats are thinking about taking back the Hornets name they had when the city entered the NBA in 1988 and their team robbed by evil owner George Shinn.  Somewhere in the middle, the Oklahoma City Thunder is involved in this mess as well.

Yeah, yeah, yeah..  All that will get sorted out at some point and we'll see what we'll see.  However, it will the backstory behind each of these franchises that will be a murky mess.  A disgusting mess.  The NBA, the record books and even Wikipedia will have to try to explain this complicated web of shared and unshared histories.

SEATTLE:  Let's start here.  Back when the SuperSonics left to become the Oklahoma City Thunder, the NBA kept the Sonics name, logo and colors back in the Emerald City so if a new team arrived then we go back to the way things were.  It is similar to what the NFL did with the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens in 1995.  Well, except for one thing.  The NBA even stated that the Thunder and a new Sonics team will "share" the Sonics history.  The NFL made the Ravens, essentially, an expansion franchise even though the players, front office and all that moved with the franchise.  The Ravens record books begin in 1996.  The Browns started as a true expansion team in the way most begin, though they keep all the history.  The Jim Brown era, the Dawg Pound.  Everything. 

So the with the Sonics back in Seattle, that means the Thunder and Sonics share a history ... good and bad (we'll get back into this scenario in the "Oklahoma City" section).

Here is where it gets a bit weird.  If, as expected, the NBA approves the Kings move to Seattle, what happens to the Kings history?  The Kings have been around nearly as long as the NBA has and has history in Rochester, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Omaha and Sacramento.  Does this history go with the franchise and merge with the Sonics?  Does the history die out in Sacramento?  Does it lay in limbo until maybe another franchise (say if Kansas City gets one) sprouts up?  What happens?

For Seattle's sake, they'll get to hang a banner of their 1979 championship along with all those players like Gus Williams, Nate McMillian, Gary Payton, Lenny Wilkens and others who have their jerseys retired as Sonics.  Guys who never set foot in Oklahoma City to play a basketball game.  But would they also get to hang a jersey for Oscar Robertson ... most likely the best Kings franchise player to suit up?  How does that work?  It is a sticky situation to say the least.

Sportz' Suggestion:  Forget the Kings history and just keep your Sonics one.  It is a nice history and those guys like Williams, Payton, Jack Sikma and Shawn Kemp were Seattle Sonics that should be celebrated.  Keep like the Browns and just have that hiccup in your history books. 

SACRAMENTO:  Or as I said, does the history die here.  Look, there is no way Sacramento will get another NBA franchise if the Kings leave for Seattle.  It won't happen for a variety of reasons.  So keeping the Kings name and history here is just dumb.  The NBA could suspend it like the NFL did the Browns ... yet instead of waiting for a team back in Sacramento, they could hold the history for a new franchise.  Kansas City sits with Las Vegas as cities that are frontrunners to get an NBA team, and the Kings franchise used to play in KC.  However, when would that be?  How big of a gap could this history take?  Would Kansas City even want that history back?  And what if it is Vegas or San Antonio or Boise or St Louis or Nashville that got a new franchise?  They would want to start fresh with everything. 

To me, let the Kings franchise die.  It hasn't really done much in 60 years anyway.  The Rochester Royals won an NBL title in 1946 and an NBA title in 1951.  That's been about it as far as great times.  Yes, you had those Robertson era of the 1960 and the Webber-Divac-Bibby era of the 2000s but this isn't a history of shimmering  higlights. 

Sportz' Suggestion:  Have a thing at the Basketball Hall Of Fame to bury the franchise and all its history.  End of story.

OKLAHOMA CITY:  I think the NBA erred with its handling of this.  If you wanted to keep the Sonics history with Seattle, I think you should've just made the Thunder a franchise with a fresh start.  Sure, Seattle had Kevin Durant for his rookie year (and Seattle can boast that), but he will be forever be known as a member of the Thunder.

No one in Oklahoma City cares about the old Seattle days.  That 1979 title wasn't theirs.  Lenny Wilkens never played for them.  I doubt the fans would even care if that Sonics time was lopped off and forgotten.  They are building something new there. 

Sportz' Suggestion:  The OKC should just tell the NBA that they are building their own thing and to just keep all that Sonics stuff back in Washington.  Other than Durant's rookie season and a couple of role guys, there is really nothing that links these two franchises together at all.  Not even the ownership.  When the Hornets left Charlotte and the Grizzlies left Vancouver, the name stayed the same in the new places.  That didn't happen here and if there ever was a time for a clean break, just make it. 

If the Hornets name goes back to Charlotte, should the history join in as well?

NEW ORLEANS:  A quick aside.  Remember that during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Hornets played in Oklahoma City for a bit.  Does OKC get any of that history?  Of course not.  So lop the Sonics off too.

Now to this mess.  On the surface ... and for the last decade ... this has been easy.  The Hornets left Charlotte for New Orleans in 2002.  The NBA promised Charlotte a new franchise that started up in 2004.  Now, the NBA didn't do to Charlotte what the promised to Seattle by leaving the name and history ... even though the NBA did promise the Queen City a team and never did Seattle.  That was mainly due to the fact that the Hornets owner, George Shinn, still owned the team he was moving (in Seattle and now in Sacramento, it was new ownership that was doing it and the NBA could place those stipulations with the sale).  Still, it was easy.  The New Orleans Hornets kept the Hornets history since they remained the Hornets and the new Charlotte Bobcats started as brand spanking new.

But now things have changed.  The New Orleans Hornets are becoming the New Orleans Pelicans after this season.  Now they have new ownership and they want the name to reflect the city.  That's fine.  Teams have changed their names before (see: Washington Bullets errrrr Wizards) and keep that history.  The difference here is that Charlotte is looking into getting the Hornets name back. 

So then what happens?  I'll give my New Orleans suggestion after ...

CHARLOTTE:  Charlotte should do what they can to get the Hornets name back.  It means something there.  The city was deemed a "hornet's nest" during the Revolutionary War and there are many references to the hornets moniker still around the city (the police department has a hornets nest incorporated in their logo). 

The Bobcats have been a dud in Charlotte.  Not only have they fielded bad teams (only one playoff appearance in 11 seasons, zero postseason wins and last year yielded the worst record in the history of the NBA).  No one liked the name when it was presented.  "Bobcats" was created by the original owner, Robert Johnson, who named the team after himself.  The orange and blue colors the team originally used were hated.  Even Rufus the mascot is no Hugo the Hornet.  While there are people who are all in on the Bobcats, the community at large hasn't bought in.

If the Hornets name came back ... along with the teal and the pinstripes and Hugo ... the city would be electric again.  Sure, the team would still blow, but at least there would be more civic pride.  I can go into Charlotte right now and see people wearing old Hornets gear.  You can still buy a lot of Charlotte Hornets stuff online.  It is one of the more popular retro teams in the NBA.  I think it would be wise to bring the Hornets name back.

But what would that really mean for Charlotte and New Orleans? 

Sportz' Suggestion:  Maybe a sorta shared history in a way.  The way the NBA truly envisioned the Seattle/Oklahoma City deal.

The Charlotte Hornets should celebrate the city's entire NBA history.  They should be able to claim the 1988-2002 history and be able to incorporate that into their franchise.  They can also keep (even if they really don't want to) the Bobcats history of 2004-2013.  That is Charlotte's NBA life:  1988-2002, 2004-present.  All that history gets jumbled together.  They can hang that Bobby Phills banner back in Charlotte where fans there remember the sad day he died.  They can claim the Alonzo Mourning jumper to eliminate the Celtics in 1993 again ... like Charlotteans have done anyway.  Many of the old school Charlotte Hornets like Muggsy Bogues, Dell Curry and even broadcaster
Steve Martin have stayed on with the Bobcats.  Let Charlotte be able to reclaim that Hornets era. 

And let New Orleans do that too.  They get to keep all of that Hornets history no matter where they were playing.  This was a Hornets franchise from 1988-2013 and there are fans who still will love their N'Awlins Hornets.  Sure, not many claim Larry Johnson or Alonzo Mourning or even Glen Rice, but I believe that New Orleans gets this better than anyone.  While they celebrate the entire Hornets history, they've never really leaned on the Charlotte days.  That doesn't mean they get to lop it off like I want to do with the Thunder.  Let's say that they share the 1988-2002 history in their record books and histories.  It works.  Then, in 2002, those histories separate. 

The Charlotte Hornets:  1988-2002, 2004-present.
The New Orleans Pelicans: 1988-present.

To me, that is the best way.

AROUND THE LEAGUE:  I know this sounds a bit weird ... and it is ... but it isn't unprecedented.  While histories aren't technically shared, there have been franchises that have sort of claimed the same eras.  The Los Angeles Lakers own the history to the old Minneapolis Lakers days and honor those players and coaches in the Staples Center with their Minnesota banner.  While the Timberwolves (who were born nearly 30 years after the Lakers left Minnesota) haven't really honored the old Lakers like George Mikan, I think the NBA should encourage them to be able to.

New Orleans has done so with Pistol Pete Maravich.  Though he was a member of the New Orleans Jazz and subsequently has his number retired by the Utah Jazz (the franchise moved to Salt Lake City in 1979), the Hornets/Pelicans have also retired his number.  I like stuff like that and think the Timberwolves should do the same with their old Laker stars like Mikan. 

To me, the city owns those memories more than the franchise does.  I love the Lakers move of having the Minnesota Lakers banner with all their jerseys honored -- though numbers not technically retired -- and feel that should be thought about elsewhere. 

Oh, and if they wanted to, I wouldn't hate if Utah and Memphis switched names and we had the Utah Grizzlies and the Memphis Jazz ... or even a morph into the Memphis Blues.  That's another post entirely. 

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