It was on November 4, 1988, that the Charlotte Hornets played their first regular season NBA game. The atmosphere at the original “Hive” was literally buzzing. Professional basketball coming to the Queen City was a huge deal and the proof was in year after year of sold-out games at the Charlotte Coliseum.
One could argue that the loyalty of Hornets supporters helped put the city on the map for so many other sports fans who had never even heard of Charlotte, NC back then. I remember, as a teenager in Pennsylvania, being quite impressed with the excitement surrounding this expansion team from somewhere “down south.” The teal-and-purple pinstripe uniforms made in impact, too.
Fast forward a few decades: Charlotte’s team had left town under questionable circumstances, returned with a different name, then reclaimed its rightful identity. Now here we are approaching the thirtieth anniversary of Hornets basketball. And thank goodness the team never used the originally suggested name: “Charlotte Spirit.”
What those early Hornets rosters may have lacked in wins they made up for with interesting characters. Longtime fans will remember the names Muggsy Bogues, Rex Chapman, Dell Curry, Baron Davis, Kendall Gill, Eddie Jones, Anthony Mason, Alonzo Mourning, Kurt Rambis, Glen Rice, and Kelly Tripucka. But perhaps no player’s name elicits more smiles than that of Larry Johnson, a.k.a. “Grandmama.”
Larry Johnson was drafted by Charlotte in 1991 and quickly became a fan favorite across the NBA. He had already made a name for himself as part of UNLV’s national championship team that had upset the mighty Duke Blue Devils in 1990. LJ continued his stellar play in the pros, earning the Rookie of the Year award in 1992 and being named an NBA All-Star in 1993 and 1995. But what really elevated Larry’s status in the public eye was his sense of humor and alter ego in an unforgettable series of TV commercials for Converse: