03 January 2013

The Bobcats’ Blues

By Shamus
Charlotte, NC

Earlier this week the Charlotte Bobcats -- a.k.a. the Bobkittens, a.k.a. the Boobcats -- won their eighth game of the 2012-13 NBA season by defeating the Chicago Bulls on New Year’s Eve. The victory thereby guaranteed the Bobcats a higher win total than last year when they only managed to win seven games.

Of course, the fact that it took 18 straight losses for the ’Cats finally to eclipse last year’s total necessarily muted the celebrations around here.

Today Charlotte’s record stands at a miserable 8-23. Truth be told, that 7-5 start to the season happened too quickly for folks to get too excited. I would say today that most fans are wondering how many more losses will have to be endured before we get to enjoy win number nine.

As a North Carolina native, basketball was always a first love for me, sports-wise, with the ACC and college hoops claiming the majority of my attention as a kid. I was too young to appreciate the Carolina Cougars, the ABA franchise that played home games in Greensboro, Raleigh, and Charlotte from 1969 to 1974. But when the state’s first NBA team tipped off that inaugural game in 1988, I was automatically a fan, remaining so all of the way to the end of their last season. I even attended the very last home game for the Hornets, a playoff loss to the New Jersey Nets in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

When the Bobcats came to town a couple of years after the Hornets’ departure, I again found myself following a kind of natural inclination toward rooting for the home team, even if new majority owner Robert “Bob” Johnson made things a little difficult early on.

By the way, popular lore suggests the team’s nickname is a reference to its original owner, something that may or may not actually be true. I remember the “Help Name the Team” vote back in 2003 in which hundreds of nickname suggestions were made by fans, eventually pared down to three possibilities -- the Flight, the Dragons, or the Bobcats. (I also remember having thought at the time that the Royals would’ve been a good name, referring to the “Queen City” of Charlotte.) There is also a lot of talk around here that the Hornets name may be coming back, with the recent news that New Orleans is going the way of the Pelicans (!) helping fuel that speculation.

For a would-be fan like me, problems began right away that first season when Johnson -- then best-known as the founder of Black Entertainment Television -- decided to create a new dedicated cable network to carry the games along with other programming. It was an idea that had worked for Johnson before when he started BET (which he’d sold by the time he took on owning an NBA franchise). But the new Bobcats network was a big fizzle, as it was never included on most cable packages, including mine. As it turned out, I wasn’t able to watch any Bobcats games on television during the first couple of years of their existence, despite living within an hour of the franchise’s home.

That situation eventually changed as the new network idea was abandoned and games finally began to be shown by the local channels. Then the Bobcats got good (relatively speaking), even making the playoffs in 2009-10 under the coaching guidance of former UNC player and one-time Carolina Cougars coach Larry Brown.

It was during that season Johnson sold his interest in the team and Michael Jordan stepped in as the majority owner. Over the summer the team traded away Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler, then when the 2010-11 season got off to a slow 9-19 start, Brown was let go (or “stepped down,” as the saying goes).

Paul Silas -- coach of the Hornets during their final glory days -- took over and the team became competitive again, but when it became clear the playoffs weren’t a possibility more moves began to be made, including dealing the team’s best player and leader Gerald Wallace to Portland on the day of the trade deadline.

The city exhaled as one, collectively recognizing that our new Jordan-led ’Cats had shifted its priority away from competing and toward rebuilding. After finishing 44-38 the year before, the 2010-11 team ended the year 34-48. Then came the historic badness of last season, with the 7-59 mark representing the worst winning percentage in NBA history (.106), the year punctuated with a mind-boggling 23 straight losses.

After the season ended, the Bobcats lost yet another heartbreaker when missing out on the #1 pick in the NBA draft lottery and failing to land Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, the hopes for which had served as kind of an ongoing consolation prize throughout the dreadful latter half of the season.

Strangely enough, now that the Bobcats are at their nadir as a franchise, I am watching their games more frequently than ever, as every single one appears on my satellite package. New coach Mike Dunlap is a likable fellow and seems competent, and I like rooting for Kemba Walker, Ben Gordon, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and others on the current squad. But it is painfully obvious that the talent level of the current group is hopelessly behind the NBA median.

It’s also clear now that the 7-5 start wasn’t indicative of how the 2012-13 season would go for the Bobcats, as it seems all but impossible they could win more than half of their games during any 12-game stretch again. In fact, three of those early wins came against the Washington Wizards (currently 4-26) and Toronto (12-20), both of whom are division cellar-dwellers at the moment.

An early signal that the 7-5 start might have been deceiving came in the team’s 13th game, actually, when the Oklahoma City Thunder delivered the ’Cats a merciless 114-69 pounding, the 45-point win representing the worst loss in franchise history (after a 44-point loss to a Gerald Wallace-led Portland team last year).

Now that the Panthers season is over, the Bobcats should start to get a little more play in the papers around here going forward (although college hoops still understandably earns most of the attention in the Tar Heel state). As the ’Cats would do a day later, the Panthers managed to exceed their previous year’s win total last Sunday by beating the Saints, thus moving from 6-10 last year to a 7-9 finish this time around.

But the guarded optimism regarding the Panthers is nowhere to be found when it comes to the Bobcats. I’ll keep watching, of course. And I’ll be rooting for an improbable two-game winning streak tomorrow night when the ’Cats host the Cleveland Cavaliers (7-26), one of the few teams in the NBA with a worse record than Charlotte at present.

But I do so with an acceptance that Pauly’s frequently-employed “Fade the Bobkittens” strategy remains a good one. And probably will continue to be so for the forseeable future.

Shamus is the author of the Hard-Boiled Poker blog.


DrPauly said...

Whenever teams let cable companies determine which of their fans get (or have to pay) to watch the games, you know they don't have the best interests of the fans/franchise at heart.

Sad to say that pro sports has become a money grab... at the expense of the players and fans.

Commitment to winning needs to happen on all levels... from top to bottom... owners, GM, coaching staff, players... and then there's the fans.

Carolina has always been a hotbed for hoops, which is a shame that they have some of the most knowledgeable and fervent fans in the country, yet the folks at top can't seem to get on the same page to execute a plan for the future.

Short-Stacked Shamus said...

A-a-a-and the Bobcats drop another heartbreaker Friday night, erasing an 18-point deficit to tie the Cavs, then watching Kyrie Irving nail a buzzer-beater to fall 106-104. Losing streak now 1.