David Foster/Charlotte Observer
Respect in sports is personal, as subjective a concept as can be. People respect seeming effortlessness, as in the case of Steph Curry’s cocksure 35-foot bombs under duress. Those same people may value in the same measure the distinct work ethic required to reach Curry’s dominance in the first place. Earning respect takes a variety of forms – achieving an objective preeminence helps, but so does fighting on behalf of a teammate and playing through the end of a long-dead season with as much tenacity as at the start.
Two separate, but thus far equal, entities continue to struggle with earning the respect of fans and casual observers. For the Charlotte Hornets, an identity crisis has stifled interest in a relatively small – but growing – basketball market, whose most notable notoriety this month comes on the heels of legislation rather than the home team’s magnificently disciplined run to and through the playoffs. For the Cleveland Cavaliers, another issue of identity has chased the team for two seasons. In both cases, fairness never bothers to pick up the phone.
Remember, remember the third of December, in the year of our LORD 2014. This was the day He gave the Philadelphia 76ers their first victory of an already lost and troubled season, albeit one calculated to be that way; let us rejoice, and be glad in it. The Sixers managed to avoid setting a record for the worst start in NBA history, so, you know, there’s that. Meanwhile, Anthony Davis is quickly becoming who we thought he was, and the Hornets are creating the wrong kind of buzz.
On November 7th, at the behest of Blog Serf James Vasiliou, I attended my first game in the Time Warner Cable Arena of this NBA season. Much has changed since last year, of course; the historically dismal Charlotte Bobcats had re-branded themselves as the Charlotte Hornets, returning to this city one of the most recognizable symbols of its growth during the 1990s and revitalizing a brand which had never really been the same since George Shinn moved the team to New Orleans in 2002. I fully intended to write about how the Charlotte Hornets, rather than the Bobcats, had returned to their place as a rallying point for a city, a way of telling the rest of America that Charlotte hosts more than simply heartless financial institutions and an airport you hate to stop through on your way to Boston, or Philadelphia, or Dublin. I intended to write about how the Bobcats’ postseason appearance last year, only its second in franchise history, became the perfect setup for this season and the re-emergence of the Hornets at just the right time. I wanted to write about how much better purple and teal look than grey, orange, navy and whatever other random colors the Bobcats haphazardly slapped on their uniforms each season to sell more gear to their beleaguered fanbase. I wanted to write about Al Jefferson’s jump hook (I’ll do that anyway, don’t worry).
Instead, I became positively enchanted with the Hornets’ shiniest new toy. No matter what happened on the court, I could not steal a glance away from him. This is how I learned to stop worrying and love Lance Stephenson.
Let’s talk about the playoffs. LaMarcus Aldridge is staking his claim as the best power forward in the game. Blake Griffin, meanwhile, is shakily maintaining his throne after a disappointing first game against the Golden State Warriors. Chris Paul’s family lineage indicates a history of assistance, but the fourth quarter is when he takes it all upon himself. The Mavs are stressing out the usually unflappable Spurs, whose now 38-year-old anchor must take more responsibility. Wizards gonna Wiz, and Grizzlies gonna Grizz. The Hawks are up on the toast of the East, the Indiana Pacers, and their defensive master has more in common with Russell Stover than Bill Russell. The Thunder are not dominating as usual. Even the Bobcats are pushing the mighty Heat, with Al Jefferson trying to do his best Willis Reed impersonation. This is the first round of the NBA playoffs. Does it get any better than this?