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Hornets Don't Take Long To Sting OpponentsThe Charlotte Hornets joined the NBA in time for the1988-89 season, as the league added four new teams in a two-year stretch. The club suffered through the usual expansion-team doldrums for a few years but then built a solid roster thanks to productive draft picks. Within a relatively short period the Hornets assembled a star-quality nucleus of forward Larry Johnson and center Alonzo Mourning, who led the team to the playoffs in only its fifth year. By the 1996-97 season both Johnson and Mourning had been traded, but Charlotte still looked to be a team on the way up, and the Hornets responded by winning 54 games in 1996-97 and 51 this past season.
Many doubted the Charlotte community's ability and willingness to support a professional basketball team. For one thing, it was a small city (although the area did have a sizable market within a few hours' drive). And North Carolina was college basketball country, where the fans' ardor for the amateur game had never translated into a similar affection for the NBA.
Nevertheless, Charlotte was admitted to the league on April 22, 1987, along with Minnesota, Miami, and Orlando. Charlotte and Miami began play in 1988-89, while Minnesota and Orlando first saw action a year later. The Charlotte team adopted the name Hornets, which had historic importance in Charlotte sports history-for many years the city's minor league baseball team was known as the Hornets, and its World Football League team had carried the same name.
Owner George Shinn hired Carl Scheer as the team's first general manager. As commissioner of the American Basketball Association, Scheer had successfully run the ABA's Carolina Cougars from 1970 to 1974 before moving on to revitalize the Denver Nuggets in the mid-1970s. On the other hand, he had also been associated with the dismal Los Angeles Clippers teams of the mid-1980s.
Shinn named Dick Harter as the Hornets' first head coach. Known as an astute basketball man with a defensive orientation, Harter had been a successful college coach and had several years' experience as an NBA assistant.
1988-89: Charlotte Stocks Roster With VeteransUnlike many expansion franchises that invest in the future with a team composed entirely of young players, Charlotte stocked its inaugural roster with several veterans in hopes of putting a competitive lineup on the court right away. The team's expansion draft picks included 6-5 Dell Curry of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who developed into one of the NBA's best sixth men. The Hornets also acquired 6-10 Dave Hoppen from the Golden State Warriors, the Utah Jazz's Rickey Green, and 5-3 Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues, who had just finished his rookie season with the Washington Bullets. Charlotte added some experienced bangers to its roster, signing 6-9 Earl Cureton, 7-footer Stuart Gray, and 6-8 Kurt Rambis. The Hornets also picked up prolific scorer Kelly Tripucka and smooth guard Robert Reid.
Picking eighth in the 1988 NBA Draft, Charlotte selected 6-4 Rex Chapman, an outstanding long-distance shooter who was leaving the University of Kentucky after his sophomore year.
The Hornets began play in the 1988-89 season at the 23,698-seat, $52-million Charlotte Coliseum. The opening-night lineup included Tripucka, Rambis, Hoppen, Reid, and Green. The Hornets' first opponent was Cleveland, and the Cavaliers gave the Hornets a rude welcome to the NBA with a 133-93 drubbing. After a road loss, Charlotte picked up its first victory with a 117-105 triumph over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Tripucka was Charlotte's top gun. In a December 14 win over the Indiana Pacers he scored 40 points. On January 16 he matched that total, and the Hornets scored a season-high 127 points while defeating the Philadelphia 76ers by 5 in overtime. On February 25 Tripucka notched his third 40-point game of the season as Charlotte beat the San Antonio Spurs, 124-113.
The team struggled through midseason but managed to avoid disaster. Then the Hornets hit the wall. From early March to mid-April they had two nine-game losing streaks. However, on April 18 Charlotte displayed some resiliency, beating the New Jersey Nets, 121-105, to establish the largest margin of victory in their charter year. And on April 23 Muggsy Bogues set a club record for assists, handing out 19 in a game against the Boston Celtics.
It was a tough campaign. With the usual expansion mix of promising youngsters and journeyman veterans on the floor, the squad managed a 20-62 record but never won more than two consecutive games. The Hornets averaged 104.5 points per game while yielding 113.0 points per game to their opponents.
Kelly Tripucka was the team's scoring leader with 22.6 points per game. Kurt Rambis, the embodiment of blue-collar basketball, topped the club in rebounding with 9.4 per contest. Rex Chapman had a successful rookie season-his 16.9 points per game was the Hornets' second-best average, and he ranked third among NBA rookies in scoring, earning a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team.
1989-90: A Struggling Sophomore SeasonThe 1989-90 season got off to a stumbling start. The Hornets lost their first five games before defeating the Orlando Magic, 130-116, in the first meeting of the two franchises. Playing another expansion team for the first time on November 25, Charlotte beat the Minnesota Timberwolves, 81-73.
Charlotte could beat the other new clubs, but it struggled against the league's more established units. November and December brought a 10-game losing streak, although December ended on a high note when the Hornets defeated the Houston Rockets, 111-92. The new year, however, was the same old story. Charlotte went 3-31 from early January to mid-March, lowlighted by a club-record 12-game losing skid.
1990: Harter Fired, Replaced By LittlesCoach Harter had been given a contract extension for the 1989-90 season, but he didn't finish the year. With the team struggling at 8-32 and showing no apparent signs of improvement, Harter was fired and replaced by Gene Littles on January 31. Littles didn't do much better, and the Hornets finished at 19-63.
Armon Gilliam, who had arrived from the Phoenix Suns early in the season in exchange for Kurt Rambis and two second-round draft choices, led the Hornets in scoring with 18.8 points per game in his 60 appearances for Charlotte. Rex Chapman chipped in 17.5 points per game but missed 28 contests due to injuries.
The Hornets also received strong contributions from rookie J. R. Reid, who averaged 11.1 points and 8.4 rebounds and earned a berth on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. The 6-9 Reid was a local favorite. He had played college ball at North Carolina, where he was an All-American in his sophomore season. With high expectations, Charlotte selected him with the fifth overall pick in the 1989 NBA Draft. Reid became a solid player for Charlotte and eventually for San Antonio.
1990-91: MuggsyThe most significant development for Charlotte was the emergence of 5-3 guard Muggsy Bogues, who defied the odds by succeeding despite his short stature. Bogues developed into a unique and productive player, lightning quick and superb with the ball. He hailed from Baltimore, where he had been the MVP of the 1983 Dunbar High School squad that won the national championship. (That Dunbar team produced three players who were NBA first-round picks-Bogues, Reggie Williams, and Reggie Lewis, as well as the NBA's David Wingate.) After a solid collegiate career at Wake Forest he had been chosen by the Washington Bullets in the first round of the 1987 NBA Draft. In 1989-90 Bogues averaged 9.4 points and 10.7 assists for Charlotte while picking off more than 2 steals per contest.
The Hornets' fortunes began to improve with the arrival of their next three first-round draft picks: Kendall Gill, Larry Johnson, and Alonzo Mourning. Gill, the fifth pick in the 1990 NBA Draft, was the first to arrive. The 6-5 player from the University of Illinois entered the NBA as a shooting guard, but he also exhibited playmaking skills when called upon to play point guard. Gill had a soft shooting touch and explosive leaping ability. (He had won the college slam-dunk contest at the 1990 NCAA Final Four.)
The addition of Gill to the lineup helped the 1990-91 Hornets to a 26-56 record, a seven-game improvement over the previous campaign. Charlotte played competitive ball and finished November with the first winning month in the team's annals. The Hornets entered December full of optimism but immediately lost 11 games in a row, dashing any hopes for a winning season.
Swingman Johnny Newman, picked up as a free agent during the offseason, led the Hornets in scoring with 16.9 points per game. Rex Chapman was second with 15.7 points per contest, followed by four other players in double figures.
After the season Littles was replaced by Allan Bristow, who had spent 1990-91 in the team's front office as its vice president of basketball operations. Bristow had been a solid supporting player in a nine-year NBA career before serving as an assistant to Doug Moe with the Denver Nuggets in the late 1980s.
1991-92: Hornets Win The Lottery, Draft "LJ"The Hornets won the 1991 NBA Draft Lottery, which gave them the first overall pick in the 1991 NBA Draft. They selected 6-7, 250-pound forward Larry Johnson, the College Player of the Year from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Johnson quickly emerged as the team leader and a future marquee attraction.
Charlotte continued to improve in 1991-92, putting up a 31-51 record. On January 25 Johnny Newman poured in a then franchise-high 41 points to lead Charlotte past Indiana, 107-105. On February 6 the Hornets registered single-game club records with 132 points and .624 field-goal shooting in a 132-115 victory over Golden State. A few weeks later they surpassed that scoring mark with a 136-84 dismantling of Philadelphia; the 52-point margin of victory was the club's most decisive ever.
In mid-February Charlotte traded the team's first-ever draft pick, Rex Chapman, to the Washington Bullets for forward Tom Hammonds. The team then pieced together five consecutive victories and finished February with a 9-4 record, the best month in team history. The Hornets' stellar play continued into March. On March 4 Charlotte erased a 21-point deficit to beat the Milwaukee Bucks, 119-110. On March 10 the Hornets defeated Minnesota, 105-96, for a franchise-record ninth straight home victory, with Larry Johnson grabbing 23 rebounds.
The good times came to an end as the season wound down. Charlotte lost seven of its last eight contests including another five-game losing streak. Nevertheless, the squad had posted its most successful season and was beginning to show promise. Kendall Gill led the team in scoring with 20.5 points per game. Larry Johnson averaged 19.2 points and 11.0 rebounds and was named NBA Rookie of the Year. Five other Hornets averaged in double figures.
1992-93: Good MourningThe rich got richer in the 1992 NBA Draft Lottery. Although Charlotte had posted a better record than six other teams that had also failed to make it into the postseason, the Hornets lucked out by winning the second overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft. The prize was Alonzo Mourning, a 6-10 All-America center from Georgetown. Like former Hoyas centers Patrick Ewing and Dikembe Mutombo, Mourning came out of college with his defensive skills fully developed, but he surprised NBA observers with a sophisticated offensive repertoire. Mourning, who played the game with a permanent scowl and a truculent attitude, provided a good complement to the emotional demeanor of Larry Johnson.
In 1992-93 the Hornets had their first winning season at 44-38, and they reached the playoffs for the first time. Charlotte got off to a good start with a 7-6 record in November, only the fourth winning month in franchise history. The Hornets won five straight from November 17 to November 25, including a 21-point comeback against the Golden State Warriors that matched the biggest comeback in franchise history. The successful season came despite injuries. Johnny Newman was lost for six weeks with a broken hand, and Kendall Gill missed five games with a badly sprained ankle.
Charlotte played 7-7 ball in December, with Mourning and Johnson providing most of the points and rebounds. In a 111-110 win over Golden State, Johnson scored a then career-high 36 points and grabbed 14 boards. At midseason Johnson was voted to a starting forward spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star Team. Floor leader Muggsy Bogues continued to provide matchup problems for opponents, averaging 10.0 points and 8.8 assists.
The franchise had gone 4-1/2 seasons without a triple-double, but in March, Larry Johnson accomplished the feat twice-on back-to-back nights. On March 18 he had 11 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists in a 113-85 win over Minnesota; the next day he logged 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists in a loss to Indiana.
Charlotte avoided its traditional late-season swoon and instead posted the most successful month in team history by going 9-3 in April. In an April 16 win over the Detroit Pistons, Mourning scored 36 points and collected 22 rebounds. For the season, the Hornets forged a 13-game improvement over the previous year. At 22-19 away from home, they were one of only seven teams in the NBA with a winning road record.
Johnson was a workhorse throughout the year, leading the NBA in minutes played with 3,323. He improved upon his stellar rookie season in nearly every offensive category, averaging 22.1 points and 10.5 rebounds. Mourning was nearly as productive, with 21.0 points and 10.3 rebounds per contest. He also had a club-record 9 blocked shots on two different occasions and ranked fourth in the league in that category with 3.47 per game. Mourning finished runner-up to Orlando's Shaquille O'Neal for Rookie of the Year honors, although many observers felt that Mourning's stretch-drive performance should have tilted the vote in his favor.
1993: Charlotte Shocks Celtics In Playoff ThrillerWith the fifth-best Eastern Conference record, the Hornets made their postseason debut against the Boston Celtics in the opening round. The playoff-hardened Celtics stopped Charlotte easily in Game 1 at Boston Garden. In the second game the young Hornets stung the Celtics, 99-98, in double overtime. The playoffs moved to Charlotte, where the Hornets dealt Boston a 30-point beating, 119-89, in Game 3.
In Game 4 Charlotte led by 18 points entering the fourth quarter but had to withstand a furious Celtics charge. Boston roared back to take a 103-102 lead with 3.3 seconds remaining on the clock. The Hornets got the ball to Mourning, who drained a 20-foot buzzer-beater for a dramatic 104-103 victory.
Energized by their first-round performance, the Hornets played tough in the next round against the New York Knicks before falling in five games.
After the season the Hornets set the NBA buzzing when they signed Johnson to a 12-year, $84-million contract extension, the most lucrative deal in league history. They also engineered trades with both the SuperSonics and the 76ers that resulted in a swap of Kendall Gill for Seattle's Eddie Johnson and Dana Barros, and the arrival of Hersey Hawkins from Philadelphia. Eddie Johnson brought veteran leadership and an uncanny scoring knack, while Hawkins was an All-Star still in his prime and one of the better off guards in the league.
1993-94: Injury Bug Stings HornetsInjuries to Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning severely cut into the team's effectiveness in 1993-94. Charlotte got off to a good start at 16-12, but Johnson hurt his back on December 28 and missed 31 games. Mourning sat out most of January and February with a sprained ankle and a torn calf muscle.
While the two were on the shelf, the Hornets sputtered to a 5-16 mark and were 10 games under .500 by the time the big men returned. Back in the lineup, Mourning and Johnson sparked an 18-8 run from March 8 to the end of the year; Charlotte finished at 41-41, falling just short of qualification for the playoffs. In individual honors, Muggsy Bogues finished second in the league in assists (10.1 apg); Mourning earned his first All-Star Game selection (although he couldn't play); and Dell Curry (16.3 ppg) won the NBA Sixth Man Award.
1994-95: Hornets Enjoy Finest Season, Join 50-Win ClubCharlotte was one of the NBA's better teams in 1994-95, achieving the first 50-win campaign in franchise history with a 50-32 mark. That record was an improvement of nine games over the 1993-94 season (the third-biggest turnaround in the NBA) and six games more than the previous club record for wins in a season.
For six weeks the Hornets enjoyed the rarefied air of first place, then found themselves locked in a race for the top spot in the Central Division late in the season before finishing two games behind the Indiana Pacers. The fourth-seeded Hornets were matched against the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. Buoyed by the late-season return of Michael Jordan, the Bulls dispatched the Hornets in four games as Jordan averaged 32.3 points for the series.
Still, the Hornets' season had to be viewed as a success. Alonzo Mourning (21.3 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.92 blocks per game) was one of the league's best centers, and Larry Johnson, who had missed 31 games in 1993-94, returned with a strong campaign (18.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg). Not as dominant inside as he had once been, Johnson added outside shooting to his attack and nailed 81 of 210 three-point shots for a .386 percentage. Both Mourning and Johnson played in the 1995 NBA All-Star Game.
Second-year forward Scott Burrell was among the league's most improved talents. He moved into the Hornets' starting lineup and proved to be a catalyst at both ends of the floor. Burrell led the league in three-point shooting for most of the first half of the season before finishing 17th, and he averaged 11.5 points and 5.7 rebounds on the year. His season came to a premature end when he tore his right Achilles tendon on March 29, and his loss hurt the Hornets' chances in the playoffs.
Most of the team's improvement could be traced to a surprisingly tough defense, orchestrated by new assistant coach John Bach, who had come over from the Chicago Bulls in the offseason. In Charlotte's first six seasons the club had never held opponents below an average of 106.7 points per game and a field-goal percentage of .471. In 1994-95, however, the Hornets limited opposing teams to 97.3 points per contest and a .455 mark from the field. Both figures ranked sixth in the NBA. Charlotte led the NBA in three-point field-goal percentage at .397.
1995-96: Hornets Stopped Short of PlayoffsThe Hive was abuzz with activity in the 1995-96 season, as the team pulled off several blockbuster trades, putting an end to the Alonzo Mourning/Larry Johnson era that earned the Hornets almost instant credibility.
Prior to the season, the Hornets reacquired Kendall Gill from Seattle, in exchange for Hersey Hawkins. On November 3, just days after the season began, the Hornets dealt Mourning, with Pete Myers and Leron Ellis to Miami for Glen Rice, Khalid Reeves, Matt Geiger and a first-round draft choice. In January, they traded Gill again, this time to New Jersey with Reeves in exchange for Kenny Anderson.
Despite the revolving door, the Hornets were in the thick of the playoff race all season long, and made some history along the way. On January 17, Glen Rice scored the 10,000th point of his NBA career. On April 6, center Robert Parish played in his 1,561st game, breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record for career games played. At age 42, Parish proved he still loves the game of basketball. Two days later, the Hornets snapped the Chicago Bulls' 44-game winning streak at the United Center, ending Chicago's quest for a 41-0 record at home.
The Hornets, though, lost three of four and finished at 41-41, one game behind the Miami Heat for the eighth and final playoff spot. The early offseason prompted more changes for the Hornets, who parted ways with Coach Allan Bristow two days after the end of the regular season. During the offseason, the team traded forward Larry Johnson to the New York Knicks in exchange for Anthony Mason and Brad Lohaus.
1996-97: Cowens, Hornets Build A WinnerThought to be a "rebuilding" year, the 1996-97 season became a breakthrough year for the Hornets, who established team records for home wins (30) and road wins (24) and posted a franchise-best 54-28 record under first-year coach Dave Cowens.
The big improvement was thanks in part to two big men acquired in offseason trades. Vlade Divac was obtained from the Los Angeles Lakers for a first-round draft pick, and Anthony Mason from the Knicks in exchange for Larry Johnson. The physical Mason had his best season, averaging a league-best 43.1 minutes and contributing 16.2 points, 11.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game. Divac added 12.6 ppg and was one of the league's top shotblockers (2.22 bpg).
But not even those big bodies could cast a shadow upon forward Glen Rice, who emerged as one of the league's top players. Rice finished third in the NBA in scoring (26.8 ppg) and led the league in three-point shooting, converting 47.1 percent of his attempts. The eight-year veteran took center stage at the All-Star Game, scoring 26 points and setting All-Star Game records for points in a quarter (20) and a half (24) en route to the Most Valuable Player award.
Rice and other Hornets sharpshooters set an NBA single-season team record for three-point percentage (42.8 percent). But for all their regular season success, the Hornets' postseason stay was a short one. Fighting nagging injuries, including a strained hamstring that slowed point guard Muggsy Bogues, the Hornets were swept by the peaking New York Knicks, putting a sour finish on a sweet season.
1997-98: Changing of the GuardsThe Charlotte Hornets underwent a minor facelift in 1997-98. Muggsy Bogues, an original Hornet, was dealt to Golden State early in the season, leaving Dell Curry as the only original Hornet. Bogues was replaced as the team's top playmaker by free agent David Wesley. Another free agent, shooting guard Bobby Phills, joined Wesley in the starting backcourt. With the new look and the weight of high expectations, the Hornets enjoyed similar success, with more than 50 wins (51-31) for a second straight season.
Wesley stepped right in for his new team, starting 81 games for the Hornets and averaging 13.0 ppg and 6.5 apg. He scored a season-high 32 points at Houston on December 29 and handed out a career-high 15 assists against Indiana on April 3. Phills, who missed 20 games due to two separate injuries, averaged 10.4 points and 3.0 assists per game and was one of four finalist for the NBA's Sportsmanship Award. After a slow start, forward Anthony Mason chipped in with 12.8 ppg and a team-high 10.2 rpg, tied for seventh in the NBA.
But once again, forward Glen Rice led the way for the Hornets. Rice finished the season tied for sixth place in the NBA in scoring at 22.3 ppg and also ranked sixth in three-point percentage (.433), despite the fact that the three-point line was moved back. Rice made his third straight appearance at the NBA All-Star Game, scoring 16 points for the East.
The Hornets clinched the fourth position in the Eastern Conference on the last day of the regular season and thus held the home court advantage in the first round against the Atlanta Hawks. Charlotte won the series in four games, advancing to the Eastern Conference Semifinals for only the second time in franchise history. Although the Hornets couldn't knock off the eventual NBA Champoins, they did win Game 2 at Chicago's United Center.
1998-99: Hornets Finish Up StrongThree days in March were all the Charlotte Hornets needed to turn their luck around.
Charlotte started the lockout-shortened season without four key players from the previous year: Vlade Divac joined Sacramento as a free agent and Matt Geiger signed with Philadelphia; Anthony Mason ruptured his right biceps during a Feb. 1 practice and was lost for the season; and Glen Rice had elbow surgery and didn't play until he had been traded.
Paul Silas inherited a 4-11 team on March 8 when he was named to replace coach Dave Cowens, who had resigned. Two days later, Charlotte acquired Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell in a blockbuster trade that sent Rice, J.R. Reid and B.J. Armstrong to the Lakers.
The Hornets took off from there, winning 22-of-35 games after Silas took over and narrowly missing the playoffs.
Jones, an All-Star shooting guard, averaged 17.0 points and 3.0 steals in 30 games with Charlotte and was named to the All-Defensive Second Team. Campbell averaged 15.3 points and a team-leading 9.4 rebounds in 32 games with the Hornets.
Derrick Coleman proved to be a solid free-agent acquisition by posting 13.1 points and 8.9 boards per game. Bobby Phills (14.3 ppg) and David Wesley (14.1 ppg) also were key contributors.
1999-2000: Hornets Overcome TragedyThe Charlotte Hornets overcame the tragic death of popular guard Bobby Phills in midseason and finished strongly, winning 14 of their last 16 games to gain homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. But they promptly surrendered it, bowing to Philadelphia 92-82, and they were eliminated from the playoffs by the 76ers in four games.
After winning eight in a row climaxed by a 106-89 victory at Miami on December 18, the Hornets' record was 16-7, the best start in franchise history. But Charlotte lost its next three games, won two, then was six games into what would be a seven-game losing streak when Phills was killed in an automobile accident near the Coliseum after a morning shootaround on January 12.
2000-01: Exceeding All ExpectationsThe Hornets exceeded all expectations in 2000-01 by putting together the most successful postseason in franchise history and coming within minutes of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. After dominating the Miami Heat in a first-round sweep, Charlotte stretched the second-seeded Milwaukee Bucks to the limit before submitting in Game Seven. The six playoff wins were a franchise record.
Despite having only the regular season for the team to come together after the August 1 trade that brought, most notably, Jamal Mashburn and P.J. Brown to Charlotte in a nine-player trade with Miami, the 2000-01 version of the Hornets produced one of the most exciting and memorable seasons in the franchise's 13-year history.
Young players such as Baron Davis, Eddie Robinson and Jamaal Magloire merged with newcomers Mashburn and Brown, and established Hornets veterans David Wesley and Elden Campbell, and the result was a defensive-oriented team that still had the potential to run and finish in high-flying transition.
Mashburn led the way with 20.1 points per game while averaging career-highs of 7.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists. The backcourt combination of Davis and Wesley each appeared in all 82 regular season contests. Davis led the team with 7.3 assists per game while adding 13.8 points and 5.0 rebounds. P.J. Brown led the way with 9.3 boards per outing.
2001-02: Mash UnitIn a year where Jamal Mashburn seemed poised for an All-Star berth and ready to guide the Hornets to the promised land, Mashburn and the team faced obstacle after obstacle both on and off the floor. Most notably on the floor was Mashburn's battle against a rare abdominal strain that forced him to miss 42 games. Mashburn's missed time was coupled with a total of 37 games missed at the beginning of the season by newly acquired George Lynch, who was the centerpiece of an October trade that sent Derrick Coleman to Philadelphia. The Hornets knew Lynch was injured when they completed the trade, but shortly after, it was discovered the pin inserted his broken left foot was too small and he required more surgery and more time to recover.
Off the floor, the team faced the distraction of the organization's efforts to move from Charlotte to New Orleans. With the future in doubt for most of the season, players and coaches faced a seemingly endless barrage of questions before the final approval to allow the move came on May 10, in the middle of the second round of the playoffs.
Without its leading scorer, Baron Davis took charge and was able to hold the team around the .500 mark and in playoff positioning until Mashburn returned. The effort led to Davis being named as a reserve to the 2002 Eastern Conference All-Star team.
Mashburn eventually overcame his injury and returned on February 19, and from March 14-27, led the Hornets on a seven-game winning streak to put the team in the thick of the race for the fourth seed and home-court advantage, which it secured on the last day of the season. Mashburn was even named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for March when he averaged 21.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists while shooting .403 (117-290) from the floor, .860 (74-86) from the free throw line and .500 (18-36) from three-point range. His selection marked the first time a Hornet had been named player of the month since Glen Rice in February of 1997.
With Mashburn playing some of the best basketball of his career and additional injuries to David Wesley and Elden Campbell behind them, the Hornets became the fashionable pick of many journalists to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. However, the task became too great when only 10 minutes into the first playoff game, Mashburn was forced off the floor by a viral illness, not to be seen again for the rest of the season, as he eventually diagnosed with anemia, a B-12 deficiency, and finally, positional vertigo, all brought on by the virus.
As he did in the regular season, Baron Davis once again rallied the troops, leading them to a 3-1 first round win over the Orlando Magic. Davis averaged 25.0 points, 9.3 assists and 9.0 rebounds, including back-to-back triple-doubles on the road in Games 3 and 4 to close out the series. In doing so, he became just the fifth player in NBA Playoff history to record back-to-back triple doubles, joining Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, John Havlicek and Oscar Robertson.
Next up were the top-seeded New Jersey Nets, who delivered a balanced attack led by MVP-runner up Jason Kidd. The Hornets saw chances to win in every game of the series, but in the end, had trouble finishing in the fourth quarter and fell in five games, ending the 14-year era of the team in Charlotte.
2002-03: Buzzin' in the Big Easy
Expectations and emotions were high for the Hornets as the team began its first season in New Orleans, picked among the favorites going into training camp to vie for the Eastern Conference title.
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