It turns out, the Hornets of the 1990s were more than just sick jerseys. Although they were never able to put together much postseason success (only won 2 playoff series in the decade), they were able to develop an impressive amount of talent, especially for a squad that was an expansion team as recently as 1988. The explanation for their disappearance from the collective basketball memory is multifold. I think it probably is a combination of lack of a deep playoff run, being shipped off to New Orleans in 2002, and the resulting confusion over who gets to own their history when the Bobcats formed in 2004. Because of all this, the 90s Hornets were lost in a sort of NBA limbo, but I’m here to celebrate some players who shouldn’t be forgotten.
Anthony Mason (1996-2000)
Classic point forward, who topped out with the Hornets averaging 16/11/6 in the 96-97 season. Curiously did not make the all-star game until his first year out of Charlotte with the Heat, even though it wasn’t his best season (Goran Dragic anyone?). He did, however, make the All-NBA 3rd team and all-defense 2nd team during the 96-97 season, and it was well deserved. He led the league in MPG and sported a very impressive 5.2 VORP, good for 11th in the league. Overall, it would be accurate to call Mason a better scoring Draymond Green (both were even drafted after the first round), although he couldn’t quite match Green’s defense and consistency.
Fun fact, Mason is allegedly the subject of Notorious B.I.G.’s song “I Got a Story to Tell”, where the rapper speaks of sleeping with another man’s wife and robbing the man when he unexpectedly comes home (slightly straying from my thesis here because this was during his earlier Knicks years). Mason sadly died in 2015 of heart failure.
Larry Johnson (1991-96)
The former first overall pick would appear in two all-star games during his time in Charlotte and get a 2nd team All-NBA nod during his sophomore campaign. Nicknamed “Grandmama”, Johnson’s name has resurfaced recently for comparisons to Duke phenom Zion Williamson. An athletic freak and ferocious dunker, Johnson was never quite able to improve his play past his first two seasons in the league (largely due to a back injury in his 3rd season) but was still able to carve out an impressive NBA career with the addition of a passable 3 point shot. Plus, he was one of two players here who were in Space Jam.
Muggsy Bogues (1988-98)
One of the OG Hornets and our other player in Space Jam, Muggsy has of course gone down in NBA lore as the shortest to ever play the game. But did you know that he had two seasons in Charlotte where he averaged double-digit assists? And three where he averaged double-digit points? Bogues proved without a doubt that despite his short stature, he was more than capable of being a plus NBA player and bonafide starter. He made up for his lack of height with explosive athleticism (44 inches vertical), which helped him regularly be near the top of the league in steals.
Alonzo Mourning (1992-95)
A player who is more known for his time with the Heat than with the Hornets, Mourning nonetheless started his career in Charlotte and had some of his best seasons there. I won’t devote too much time to this because everyone already knows how great he is, but suffice it to say that he spent 3 years in Charlotte, made the all-star team 2 times, and averaged over 20 points and nearly 10 rebounds and 3 blocks per game every year. Pretty impressive for someone just coming into the league.
Glen Rice (1995-98)
Glen Rice had one job throughout his career, and that was to get buckets. The swingman made the all-star game each of his three seasons in Charlotte, averaging over 21 ppg each year and taking full advantage of the shortened 3 point line to lead the league with 47% 3 pt shooting in 96-97 (a year where he was also 3rd in the league in scoring with 26.8 ppg). Although a bit of a sieve on defense, he still played well enough to earn all-NBA 2nd and 3rd team honors in two of his years with the Hornets.
Dell Curry (1988-98)
Yes, the Hornets color commentator and father of Steph Curry actually had a pretty impressive career himself. While not blessed with the handles of Steph (or even Seth), Dell still possessed the Curry marksmanship gene. He shot over 40% from 3 for six consecutive seasons with the Hornets and averaged double-digit points for all but one of his years there. Usually utilized for quick points off the bench, Curry won 6MOTY in 93-94.
Vlade Divac (1996-98)
Like Mourning, anyone who watched basketball in the 90s or 00s will recognize the name of Vlade Divac. But few remember that he actually played two seasons with the Hornets in between his more well-known tenures with the Lakers and Kings. But these two seasons were some of his best – in the 96-97 season he paired with Anthony Mason to form probably the best passing frontcourt in the league and ranked 12th in the league (one spot below Mason) with a 4.8 VORP.
Eddie Jones (1998-00)
Part of the haul the team received for a disgruntled Mourning Rice, the swingman had a short but distinguished tenure with Charlotte. He made the all-star team his one full season with the team, averaging 20/5/4 on good efficiency for the era (56% TS, move over Jerry Stackhouse). He also led the league with 2.7 steals per game and made the all-defensive 2nd and all-NBA 3rd teams.
Kendall Gill (1990-93)
Kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel here but he had a 20/5/4 season in 91-92 so figured I’d throw him on. Might as well call this guy Gerald Wallace because it seems like he was one of the few quality players on the Charlotte team during their lean expansion years. And he once led the league in steals so that’s kind of cool. Alright, I think I’m done with this.