Hornets playoffs: Part 5 – Tragedy mars season, then Iverson too much to overcome in 2000 playoffs

This is the fifth in a series on Charlotte’s previous NBA playoff seasons. Here’s a look at other stories in the 10-part series:
Part 1 – The Hive Is Alive as the Hornets win their first postseason series in 1993. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-1-the-hive-is-alive-as-the-hornets-win-their-first-postseason-series-in-1993/
Part 2 – Homecourt no advantage against Michael Jordan’s late-season return in 1995. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-2-homecourt-no-advantage-against-michael-jordans-late-season-return-in-1995/
Part 3 – Hard Ball runs into a motivated former Charlotte All-Star in 1997. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-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. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/hornets-playoffs-part-4-hornets-dispatch-hawks-hand-last-dance-bulls-their-first-playoff-loss-in-1998/
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

Entering the 1999-2000 season, the Charlotte Hornets were a fashionable pick to be Eastern Conference title contenders.

Charlotte’s Eddie Jones battles Philadelphia’s Bruce Bowen during the 2000 NBA playoffs. [hornets.com photo]
Those high expectations came after a turbulent 1999 in which a slow start in a lockout-shortened season saw head coach Dave Cowens resign after a 4-11 start before a major trade with the Los Angeles Lakers and the guidance of interim coach Paul Silas sparked a midseason turnaround.

Though the Hornets would finish one game out of the 1999 playoffs, their good fortune continued when they “won” that spring’s draft lottery and moved up 10 spots to draft eventual NBA All-Star Baron Davis with the No. 3 overall pick of the 1999 NBA Draft.

But Silas nor his players had any idea the struggles that lay ahead.

Promoted from interim to head coach shortly after guiding Charlotte to a 22-13 finish to the 1999 season, Silas was hopeful Lakers’ acquisitions Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell, free agent acquisitions Eddie Robinson and Brad Miller could form a solid nucleus with David Wesley, Bobby Phills and the returning Anthony Mason, who missed all of the 1999 season with an injury.

That optimism was validated on Dec. 18 when Charlotte sat atop the Eastern Conference standings for the first time in franchise history with a 16-7 record.

But four days later, Jones was lost for 10 games with a left elbow injury.

And two days after Jones returned to action, the unimaginable happened.

Phills died in a car crash less than a mile from the Charlotte Coliseum after a morning shootaround practice session on Jan. 12, 2000.

The death rocked the organization and many in the league who often spoke of Phills’ humanity, kindness and generosity in addition to his basketball abilities.

A 6-foot-4 collegiate center at Southern University, Phills was chosen in the second round of the 1991 NBA Draft but had turned himself into one of the league’s most effective guards as a defender and 3-point shooter.

His loss left a gaping hole on the roster that no one person could fill.

The mental anguish left behind was even more of a challenge.

His best friend of the team, Wesley, admitted later that struggled with the loss for the rest of ths season – and beyond.

Other teammates declined to discuss Phills the rest of the season to avoid getting too emotional talking about him.

And there wasn’t a dry eye in the house on Feb. 9, 2000 when the franchise retired and hung Phills’ No. 13 jersey in the Charlotte Coliseum rafters.

Charlotte Hornets fans and the entire organization were rocked by the death of Bobby Phills during the 1999-2000. Here’s a sign dedicated to Phills during the team’s first home game since Phills’ Jan. 12, 2000 death on Jan. 17, 2000.

On the court, the team slipped in the standings before closing strong.

Charlotte had two seven-game winning streaks in the last 20 games and finished 9-2 in April as Silas was named Eastern Conference coach of the month as the Hornets finished with a No. 4 seed in the upcoming playoffs.

But fans’ frustration with the pursuit of a new uptown Charlotte arena by owners George Shinn and Ray Wooldridge’s played a role in a crowd of 15,023 at the 23,799-seat Charlotte Coliseum in the Game 1 playoff opener against the Philadelphia 76ers – and many of them were supporting 76ers guard Allen Iverson of Hampton, Va.

Making matters worse, Iverson scored 40 points as Philadelphia took the Hornets’ homecourt advantage away in a 92-82 victory.

The loss was followed by a franchise-low 11,686 playoff attendance two nights later when Coleman scored eight of his 29 points in overtime of a 108-98 Hornets’ victory in a back-and-forth game that saw 23 lead changes and 13 ties.

Charlotte led late in each game in Philadelphia but lost both – 81-76 in Game 3 and 105-99 in Game 4 – and the season ended in a 3-1 series loss.

Iverson scored 103 points in the four-game series.


The 2000 Hornets
Record: 49-33 (1-3 in playoffs)
Head coach: Paul Silas
Top scorers: Eddie Jones 20.1, Derrick Coleman 16.7, David Wesley 13.6, Bobby Phills 13.6, Elden Campbell 12.7, Anthony Mason 11.6
Top rebounders: Coleman 8.5, Mason 8.5, Campbell 7.0, Brad Miller 5.3
Notes: Jones was chosen for the All-Star Game and was named second team All-Defense and third team All-NBA after the season.