There’s a buzz in Bank Town. After weeks of speculation, Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan revealed in a press conference May 21 that he has applied for the NBA franchise to be rechristened the Hornets starting in the 2014-15 season, as the New Orleans Hornets will drop the moniker in favor of a more local mascot, the Pelicans. Charlotte’s potential throwback rebranding comes after an abysmal stretch for the Bobcats, which arrived in Charlotte in 2003 and have consistently delivered a lackluster performance on the court, with flagging attendance. In the past two seasons, the team has a 28-120 record.
For connoisseurs of NBA fashion, the biggest question is whether the migration of Hugo the dunking hornet back to Charlotte will also mean the revival of the team’s original color scheme for this season. When the Hornets franchise made its debut in the late-1980s, the team called on local fashion designer Alexander Julian to draw up the uniforms. He opted for purple and teal—with multicolored pinstripes on the tops—and pleated shorts. “I wanted something that was dignified,” Julian said at the time. The Saved By the Bell-era uniforms proved to be inexplicably influential, though, as each subsequent expansion franchise across the whole of professional sports in the 1990s seemed to follow suit. In 1991, the NHL’s San Jose Sharks opted for teal. In 1993, Major League Baseball’s the Florida Marlins would choose teal while the Colorado Rockies went with purple. In 1995, the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, also based in Charlotte, went with teal-based uniforms. That same year, the Toronto Raptors of the NBA went for purple. The list goes on.
But in sports, and in all fashion, things do go in and out of style. The best-selling sports apparel has consistently been primary color uniforms, such as the plain blues and reds provided by the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Knicks, and the Chicago Bulls. Much of this has to do with the size of the local markets and loyalty of the fan bases—and the performance and popularity of individual players (such as Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose, the NBA’s top jersey sales in 2013 and 2012, respectively). After moving to New Orleans, the Hornets eventually adopted a Mardi Gras-themed color scheme, with an emphasis on yellow.
Asked about the possible return of the purple and teal, Michael Jordan said, “We haven’t even discussed that right now.” According to Bobcats marketing director Pete Guelli, the rebranding of the Bobcats into the Hornets will ultimately cost the team $4 million—a process that would take a year and a half to complete—which refers to extensive facility makeovers and losses incurred on unsold apparel. In Charlotte, fans certainly expect the old colors, originally worn by Muggsy Bogues and Larry Johnson. At the Bobcats’ last weekend home game in April, the grassroots group Bring Back the Buzz staged a “silent swarm” at Time Warner Cable Arena. According to the campaign’s official blog, a group of “True Beelievers” wanted “to come together one last time in support of our Cats (before they become our Bugs).” They sat in a section together, wearing “our teal and purple, in support of the home team.”