NBA hits point of embarrassment in Charlotte

OPINION

Love the Bobcats or hate them. But please, do anything to prove we are a better NBA city than Toronto

This just in! The “I’m Just Sayin’” sports blog has its first piece of breaking news: Charlotte has an NBA team, and it’s working its butt off to win the city’s heart.

Most people in the Queen City haven’t noticed that, largely because the Carolina Panthers have a football team good enough to win the Super Bowl.

Who am I kidding? If the Panthers were in last place and the only other sports option in town was the roller derby, people wouldn’t flock to Time Warner Cable Arena to see the Bobcats, who have a 10-19 record.

It’s not that people hate Charlotte’s NBA team; folks are just plain indifferent when it comes to the Bobcats.

The team hires one of the leagues’ all-time greatest coaches, Larry Brown, a fiery man who happens to be a former player for the beloved North Carolina Tar Heels? Absolutely no movement on Charlotte’s hoops Richter scale.

The Bobcats lose seven consecutive games, as they did earlier this month? No big deal; people aren’t booing or calling sports-radio talk shows to express frustration about management, as you see in other cities with low-performing NBA teams, like Washington and Philadelphia.

That has to be the epitome of annoyance for Bobcats players. No matter what they do, they just don’t matter around here.

That’s an amazing transformation for a city that led the league in attendance for years when the Charlotte Hornets were around.

Hey, in this economy, I can understand why folks aren’t flocking to the arena to see the Bobcats, which explains how Charlotte ranks 28th in the 30-league team in average attendance this season (13,421 fans per game), according to ESPN.com. Even Golden State, which has eight wins, and Toronto – Toronto, y’all! – fair much better than Charlotte. And those aren’t exactly NBA hotbeds. Toronto, with its 11-17 record, ranks ninth with 18,768 fans per game, and Golden State is 10th with 18,642.

But here are a few more interesting facts: The Panthers rank fifth among 32 NFL teams in average attendance (73,210), according to ESPN.com. Only teams with rich NFL histories – the Washington Redskins, New York Giants, New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs – rank ahead of the Panthers this season.

Even with a recession and Christmas approaching, people here have spent their sports entertainment dollars SOMEWHERE. Families aren’t just staying home and listening to games around the radio, like on “The Waltons.”

Is it all about winning and losing? Not really. According to ESPN.com, the Panthers ranked sixth in average attendance during the 2006 and 2007 seasons – and those both were non-playoff campaigns for Carolina.

Either way, it’s not up to me to tell people how to spend their sports entertainment dollars. But I do think people should care about the Bobcats, even if the locals are blasting the team on call-in shows and in barbershops.

Over the past couple weeks, Bobcats management has made some major moves. The team traded Jared Dudley and the closest thing it had to a star, electric guard Jason Richardson, to Phoenix for Raja Bell, Boris Diaw and Sean Singletary. There’s even word around the league that point guard Raymond Felton is on the trading block and other moves could be imminent.

Granted, the deal with Phoenix wasn’t at all sexy, and I’ll admit I cringed after learning of the swap. But a closer look shows Bell and Diaw are the kinds of players Larry Brown likes as the core of his team. Much like the Philadelphia squad he led to the NBA Finals in 2001 and the Detroit bunch with which he won the league crown three years later, Brown wants blue-collar types, and that’s exactly what Bell and Diaw are.

Sure, there have to be more pieces added, preferably a reliable scorer and/or a true center. But I like that the Bobcats are trying to do SOMETHING to change this franchise. I applaud the fact they’ve essentially said, “What we’ve done in the past hasn’t worked, and we’re going to keep trying to get better.” They really seem to be trying to give the team an identity.

Who knows if it all works? But no matter what, sports fans here should have something to say about it.

Cuss the Bobcats out. Cheer for them. Enter a contest to win free tickets. Write management a letter of complaint.

Do ANYTHING to prove you’re a better NBA city than Toronto.

C. Jemal Horton has covered sports for the Washington Post, Indianapolis Star and Charlotte Observer. He currently is group sports editor for Carolina Weekly Newspapers.

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