To truly understand the circuitous journey and the brevity of this latest pinch-me moment, a flashback is necessary. It began with, of all things, one of the holy grails coveted by many male teenagers during the late 1980s and early 90s.
A Starter jacket.
They were all the rage then, an essential part of the fly guy wardrobe. But this one wasn’t just any old coat. This particular piece of outerwear boasted a bee-looking logo and a bold teal color scheme representing something fresh and different, allowing the person wearing it to stick out that much more and separate themselves during the daily “Who’s dressed the best?” mini-contests quietly whispered among the ‘cool’ people at school.
Still beloved by many to this day — do the names Steph Curry and J. Cole ring a bell? — that Starter coat was a bridge for me to a state I was already keenly familiar with, yet still felt so far away. That’s a direct reflection on what it’s like to grow up in New York, where every city, town and village can feel like their own little state in a sense.
But although I was born and raised in New York on Long Island, my ties to North Carolina run deep. My father, God rest his soul, was from a tiny town in Columbus County called Hallsboro. As a kid, I spent many summer days with my parents frequenting the shops and stores in Whiteville, N.C. My older brother and I took dips in Lake Waccamaw to cool off.
And, by the way, my mother was from Alabama, which led to countless family trips riding up and down the entirety of I-85 from Petersburg, Va., to Montgomery, Ala. The nearly four-hour ride through this state usually bored me to tears because it encompassed a non-stop tree-lined canopy with zero landmarks spotted from the highway — until the days when you could begin to see the spire of the Bank of America building on approach.
Yes, Carolina was on my mind even long before 1997, when a few of my relatives moved to Charlotte and it gave me a reason to visit. During those yearly treks here in the late 90s and early 2000s, prior to the housing market crashing with a thud, I was often amazed by the number of cranes hovering in uptown and erecting a skyline that remains ever-changing.
Pair all that with the Hornets being such a cool team to follow since the franchise’s inception — boasting electrifying players like Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, Muggsy Bogues and Kendall Gill to make them a chic team to play with in the early days of EA Sports’ NBA Live video game series — and Charlotte was always an intriguing market to me. There was always an appeal.
Those familiar with the history of pro basketball in this city know of its plenty of peaks and valleys, with more of the latter frustrating a fan base waiting to completely wrap its collective arms around the team. And Rick Bonnell was there to chronicle it every step of the way. He was the face of The Charlotte Observer’s Hornets (and Bobcats) coverage. A dean, if you will.
Our paths crossed almost daily over the past three seasons while I covered the Hornets beat for two different publications, and there is no doubt his unparalleled knowledge and expertise about the team made me a better reporter.
It’s still hard to believe he’s no longer here. He was synonymous with the team.
That’s why I’m deeply humbled, honored and grateful to be selected and given the opportunity to serve as The Observer’s new Charlotte Hornets beat writer. The task and ultimate goal is to provide you, the reader, with the best Hornets’ coverage anywhere. The Observer has been at the forefront of detailing the franchise’s happenings and that isn’t going to change. If anything, with the Hornets being such a hot team featuring a budding star in LaMelo Ball, we are going to try to take it up another notch with a variety of new features.
We will sort it out over the coming days, weeks and months and the ball will be rolling soon since the team’s media day is on tap for next Monday and training camp starts the following day. There will be plenty of fresh content to dive into and devour soon.
Hopefully, you will subscribe and come along for the ride. Please do. It’s bound to be a fun voyage and be well worth your dime and time.