Triangle might be immune to Bobcats playoff fever
Posted April 2, 2014
North Carolina, Duke and NC State? Out of the NCAA Tournament. The women? Gone too. The Tar Heels were denied a trip to the Final Four after a 74-65 loss to Stanford. Even if fans wanted to root for ACC basketball in general, Clemson and Florida State failed to give us an all-conference NIT Championship game in Madison Square Garden.
Since the secondary postseason tournament dropped its third-place game over a decade ago, it looks like the Tigers and Seminoles will just have to share a consolation banner.
How about the Carolina Hurricanes? Considering Sports Club Stats gives the team less than a 1 percent chance of making the playoffs, it's mathematically certain we'll be without postseason hockey for the fifth year in a row.
And considering NC State and North Carolina have underwhelmed on the baseball diamond, hungry sports fans craving high stakes tournament implications are left with one choice still on the shelf -- the Charlotte Bobcats.
Oh, you haven't heard? The Bobcats are in the NBA playoff mix with two weeks of the regular season remaining and currently hold the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference. Indeed, this is a different type of year for NBA basketball in Charlotte. The Bobcats are downright respectable, generating interest in how they're constructed and what the future might hold following a deep draft.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. First, Triangle area fans must ask themselves, "can I get into the Charlotte Bobcats like I do with the Carolina Panthers?"
Not necessarily. And it's not because of some contrived city rivalry between Charlotte and other urban centers in the state of North Carolina. It's not even about whether casual fans like the NBA, which research shows they do. While the NFL is king, ESPN claims sports fans between the ages of 12 to 34 ranked the NBA either first or second for nine out of the 12 months of the year. The obvious uptick in interest coincides with the playoffs, much like college basketball dominates interest in March because of the NCAA Tournament.
Unlike the other pro franchise based in Charlotte, the Bobcats are difficult to embrace, and lack of confidence in ownership is a point of contention. Robert Johnson, the original owner of the franchise, used the team as a vehicle to create a regional sports network that folded after one season. Johnson eventually sold the team to Michael Jordan in 2010, who quickly earned the perception of being an absentee owner more interested in golf than the front office. When you throw in the long-winded history of George Shinn and the departure of the original Hornets, the NBA's relationship with the area is tenuous, at best.
The Bobcats have tried to change their perception with front office moves and what seems like a perpetual "Three-Year Plan" modeled after the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the Eastern Conference is so weak that the franchise had to be extra awful in order to get in the NBA Draft lottery.
And therein lies the problem for this franchise. The Bobcats need to continue their building project, but couldn't unless they tanked. The trade-off is making the playoffs, which should be viewed as a sign of progress. However, the expectation is Charlotte will face another first round sweep similar to their series against Orlando in 2010.
None of those options get fans excited about the Bobcats. It's a franchise that's two seasons removed from the worst record in the NBA and has featured a revolving door of coaches. It's been a forgettable decade where ownership can't seem to do anything right. They couldn't even register CharlotteBobcats.com.
Regardless of what happens in the playoffs, the return of the Hornets name next season will generate a considerable amount of goodwill toward the team. However, nostalgia for the good ol' days will only last so long and Hugo won't be able to distract fans from the win column.
A trip to the Super Bowl. Winning the Stanley Cup. We haven't seen that level of winning at the NBA level in this state. Until that happens, those casual fans won't turn into hardcore ones.