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Hornets Rebrand Listens to Fans, Restores History

As I listened to the Hornets.com live feed of the official name change while pretending to work, all I kept thinking is one thing. The organization has really nailed this rollout so far.

That’s not a throwaway thought. That’s huge. I am fascinated by public relations. I always pay special attention to how companies/organizations/personalities interact with their respective constituencies. One thing sticks out to me after all these years of keeping tabs on the General Motoreses and the Donald Sterlings and the Netflixes…

It is SO easy to mess these things up.

A botched logo. A poor naming choice. Something left out, something left in. Next thing you know twitter is down your social media gullet and you are printing out retractions for your retractions. Nightmare are so much easier to create than dreams. So far this Hornets rollout has been a dream for nostalgic fans and new blood alike.

I know what you’re saying, “Doug, they did the polling.” This was an OVERWHELMINGLY popular consensus decision. This was coach pitch to Mike Trout. This was a slam-bang home run from the JUMP.

Maybe. But they still had to clear a few major hurdles.


The challenge with undertaking something as unique as going BACK to a past brand is how to recognize the past while creating something new. How do you pay homage without becoming a slave to nostalgia? Trying to strike that kind of subjective balance is difficult. When you consider that what you’re creating will be going out to fans of all personalities, likes and dislikes (some who may have even liked the Bobcats look) it almost has an element of “Welp, I hope this works.”


It starts where every look starts, the colors. “The Purple and Teal” is something that people in Charlotte say with reverence. The franchise recognized this and didn’t mess with a great thing. Slight alterations to shade aside, purple and teal have been splashed all over the city in the form of the “Paint the City” campaign and several theme nights sprinkled throughout last season.

The logo got a strong refresh, bringing a menacing feeling that poor Rufus and the Bobcats logo could never quite evoke. They held on to history by bringing back a slightly tweaked secondary Hugo logo that serves as a familiar blanket in a new bed. I still think the other secondary logo (third on the pyramid) looks like it belongs in the WNBA, but there is something for everyone in this set.


Sometimes a rebrand is more about “who” than “what or “how.” Who can we put in front of our hungry fans that can evoke trust? Who can endear these fans to our transition? Who can soothe their fears? The Hornets enlisted the help of some very familiar and carefully selected faces to help bring back the buzz.

The obvious first choice was Dell Curry, the all-time leading scorer in Hornet’s history and the voice of the Bobcats for the past two years now. Familiar, genial, not an ounce of anything to hate in the man, he was perfect for the push.

TODD SUMLIN/Charlotte Observer

TODD SUMLIN/Charlotte Observer

Kelly Tripucka was the face of the fresh look the Hornets presented in 1989 and would capitalize on in the early 90’s. His presence if nothing else gave the press an opportunity to relive that seminal day in Hornets history.

And of course…there was Muggsy. Muggsy Bogues is ubiquitous with Charlotte pro-basketball. He rembodies the underdog spirit that powered a city on the rise and fueled the sellout crowds of the early-90’s era Charlotte Hornets. While Muggsy is and always has been a fixture in the Charlotte community through service and charity, his continued support of the Hornets could not have been called a “sure thing” given the way their relationship ended in 1998. The Hornets, still run by George Shinn, left Muggsy with a special kind of sting when they pressured him to have his knee evaluated and then unceremoniously traded him to the Golden State Warriors a mere two games into the 1997-98 season. Muggsy felt betrayed and voiced his displeasure with the Hornets lack of loyalty in public. It makes it all the more sweeter to see Muggsy leading the charge back to the Hornets name with new (read: better) ownership and a renewed sense of purpose. Old wounds die as new hope arrives.


When I heard the announcement at the press conference last Tuesday, I got goosebumps. Honest-to-God goosebumps. Hornets COO Fred Whitfield with the call:

The folks at the presser couldn’t help but cheer! I couldn’t help but cheer, which my boss wasn’t a huge fan of. SORRY MR. MIDDLEBROOKS MY CHILDHOOD DREAMS ARE COMING TRUE!

This whole process finally felt complete. More than the logo, more than Muggsy, even more than the royal purple and holy teal, reclaiming our historical statistical records was the most important accomplishment of this entire transition. What are the Hornets without 1988? Who are the Hornets without Dell Curry as our leading scorer (for now). How can we watch the 2014-15 Hornets knowing that Bobby Phills’ jersey could never hang from the Time Warner rafters? Was is absolutely necessary? No. Was it absolutely essential? Yes.

With the help of the NBA and the Pelicans, the Hornets made the dream a reality and in the process turned a rebranding into the beginning of a renaissance of pro-basketball in Charlotte, NC.

Now…let’s see Super Hugo already.


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