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The rebranding of the Charlotte Bobcats as the Charlotte Hornets has been a very positive experience, with a franchise in need of market traction and increased popularity grabbing hold of one of the most recognizable brands in the NBA's past 25 years. The teams' logos and mascot have been updated a bit, but the Hornets are back. Everyone get out your old Starter jackets and Skybox trading cards.
Yet the Hornets' legacy is not without tragedy, as well. The newest incarnation of the franchise has not turned its back on all aspects of that history and will remember one of its saddest moments in an upcoming ceremony. The Hornets will re-retire the jersey of Bobby Phills, who died in a car accident on January 12, 2000 at 30 years old, on November 1 during halftime of their game against the Memphis Grizzlies. From the press release:
The Charlotte Hornets announced today that the team will honor the late Bobby Phills and re-hang his retired No. 13 jersey in a halftime ceremony during its game against Memphis on Saturday, November 1. The jersey was originally raised to the rafters on February 9, 2000, following Phills’ passing a month earlier.
“During the process of bringing the Hornets name back to Charlotte, one of the most important elements to us was to once again honor the retired jersey of Bobby Phills,” said Hornets President & COO Fred Whitfield. “It is our responsibility to appropriately recognize the legacy of a man who impacted so many people with his contributions both on and off the basketball court.”
The halftime ceremony, which will include members of the Phills family and several of Phills’ former Charlotte Hornets teammates, will feature a video and remarks on behalf of the family and the organization before the No. 13 jersey once again resumes its place as the lone retired number in Hornets history.
A 6-5 guard, Phills signed with the Hornets prior to the 1997-98 season and played in 133 games for the team prior to his untimely death on January 12, 2000. He averaged 12.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.4 steals in 32.2 minutes per game during his time in Charlotte. The nine-year NBA veteran spent his first six seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he was named to the All-Defensive Second Team following the 1995-96 season.
This is a very important move from the Hornets. It's easy to think of reclaiming the Hornets brand as an exercise in teal-tinged nostalgia, but the decision was driven by the belief that the Charlotteans feel an emotional attachment to the Hornets through a shared history. The death of Phills was a major event for the city and the entire league. Paying tribute to Phills proves that the new Hornets know that a sports franchise and the city it calls home can share a special relationship.
Phills remains the only Hornet to have his jersey number retired. The New Orleans Hornets retired the No. 7 jersey of Louisiana native and former New Orleans Jazz star Pete Maravich in 2002 during the team's first season in the city, but that honor obviously won't be carried over to Charlotte and has stuck with the New Orleans Pelicans.
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