Hornets playoffs: Part 1 – The Hive Is Alive as the Hornets win their first postseason series in 1993
This is the first in a series on Charlotte’s previous NBA playoff seasons. Here’s a look at other stories in the 10-part series:
Part 2 – Homecourt no advantage against Michael Jordan’s late-season return in 1995
Part 3 – Hard Ball runs into a motivated former Charlotte All-Star in 1997
Part 4 – Hornets dispatch Hawks, hand “Last Dance” Bulls their first playoff loss in 1998
Part 5 – Tragedy mars season, then Iverson too much to overcome in 2000 playoffs
Part 6 – Headband fever sparks longest playoff run in season of off-court turmoil in 2001
Part 7 – Lame duck Hornets again advance to conference semifinals in 2002
Part 8 – Early season trade sparks expansion franchise into playoffs in 2010
Part 9 – First-year head coach, offseason free agent acquisition led to playoffs in 2014
Part 10 – Franchise snaps long postseason losing streak with 2016 postseason play
By Richard Walker
You could not have scripted a better storyline for the five-year-old Charlotte Hornets than when they made their initial postseason appearance in 1993.
Create excitement in the regular season?
Play a familiar opponent in the playoffs?
Win a series in dramatic fashion?
The Hornets did all of that in their magical season of 1992-93.
To keep the buzz that surrounded the franchise that season, keep in mind that national writers scoffed at Charlotte’s possibility of even getting a team when it did in 1987 and the NFL Carolina Panthers were 3 1-2 years from playing their first game in Charlotte.
So fans that packed the old Charlotte Coliseum off Tyvola Road with nearly 24,000 every night were quite excited to even be in the playoffs, much less playing against the storied franchises of the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks.
The building process was slow and steady for the Hornets as they drafted and/or added valuable added pieces virtually every season before making the historic playoff appearance.
The 1988 expansion draft netted popular guards Dell Curry and Muggsy Bogues. In the 1991, 1992 and 1993 drafts, the Hornets selected Kendall Gill, Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning with picks 5, 1 and 2, respectively. The Mourning selection came following a draft lottery in which the franchise defied long odds to move up to a coveted top three selection; Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal (No. 1 overall pick) and Christian Laettner (No. 3) all were eventual NBA All-Stars and expectations were high for each player when they entered the league.
And Kenny Gattison, Johnny Newman and David Wingate were free agent acquisitions that became key rotation players for the Hornets.
In a competitive Eastern Conference, Charlotte recorded only its fourth winning month in history (7-6) to begin the season and its 14-13 record at the turn of the new year marked the best start in franchise history.
The team overcame injuries to Newman (broken left hand), Gill (right ankle sprain) and veteran Mike Gminski (left knee) as it recorded more and more firsts during the season.
Johnson, the 1992 NBA Rookie of the Year, became the franchise’s first All-Star starter in February.
Earlier that month, the much-anticipated first matchup between Mourning and O’Neal was a 116-107 Charlotte victory.
On March 14, an even more important first happened as Charlotte took its first win at the historic Boston Garden after nine consecutive defeats.
The dividend of that victory couldn’t have been known at the time – but it would be in a month and a half.
After closing the regular season with a 9-3 record in April – 4-0 on the road – for the best month in team history set the stage for the team’s first playoff appearance.
The historical differences between the fifth-seeded Hornets and fourth-seeded Celtics couldn’t have been more stark entering the first round series that would start on April 29 in Boston.
The Celtics entered the 1993 playoffs with 453 all-time postseason games, 21 Game 7s, 19 conference titles and 16 NBA titles while the Hornets countered with zero postseason experience.
Boston won the series opener 112-101 as Xavier McDaniel of Columbia, S.C., scored 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and the Celtics outscored the Hornets 59-48 in the second half after the teams played to a 53-all halftime tie.
But the Celtics lost top scorer Reggie Lewis (20.8 points per game scorer) collapsed in the first half and didn’t return in the series. Lewis, a high school teammates of the Hornets’ Bogues and Wingate and another NBA player (Reggie Williams) at Baltimore’s Dunbar High, would die less than three months later from what would be diagnosed as a heart defect.
Whether it was the loss of Lewis or Charlotte’s youthful enthusiasm, the Hornets took charge after the opening game to win the series three games to one.
The first Hornets’ win set more history as Charlotte’s 99-98 double overtime win was the first time the franchise had appeared on NBA on NBC in a Saturday noon contest that saw 17 lead changes and 19 times. Larry Johnson’s bucket early in the second overtime proved decisive.
Charlotte returned home and gave its loud, sellout crowd of 23,698 a convincing 119-89 victory in which Johnson had 29 points and Curry 27.
The series-clincher looked to be another blowout but turned into a Hardwood Classic that is frequently shown on NBA TV.
The Hornets led throughout, including 88-70 entering the fourth quarter before needing Mourning’s 20-footer with 0.4 seconds left to stop a run of 10 unanswered Celtics points that had given Boston a 103-102 lead. Still, Gill’s defense of an alley-oop inbounds pass to Boston’s former slam dunk champion Dee Brown was needed to preserve the 104-103 victory that set off loud celebrations in the region.
Charlotte’s season would come to an end in mid-May when the Knicks won the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series four games to one. One of the Knicks’ wins came by 105-101 in overtime at Madison Square Garden when then-rookie Hubert Davis drained a game-tying 3-pointer with 44.3 seconds left in regulation. (Davis earlier this month was named head coach at his college alma mater of North Carolina.)
The 1993 Hornets
Record: 44-38 (4-5 in playoffs)
Head coach: Allen Bristow
Top scorers: Larry Johnson 22.1, Alonzo Mourning 21.0, Kendall Gill 16.9, Dell Curry 15.3
Top rebounders: Johnson 10.5, Mourning 10.3
Notes: When Hornets owner George Shinn was awarded the NBA franchise on April 5, 1987, the fee was $32.5 million. Shinn’s efforts to get the expansion franchise began in 1985 with billboards in the regions proclaiming, “Bringing the NBA to Basketball Country!”…
Originally named the Charlotte Spirit, a name-the-team contest changed the nickname to “Hornets,” which is nod to the city’s resistance to British soldiers during the Revolutionary War since British commander Lord Cornwallis once called Charlotte “a veritable hornet’s nest of rebellion.” Additionally, the “Hornets” named had been used by Charlotte’s minor league baseball teams from 1901 to 1972, a World Football League team in 1974 and 1975 and the trophy given to the annual Charlotte 49ers-Davidson College men’s basketball game is called the “Hornets’ Nest Trophy.”