As I have written before in this blog, I am not a big fan of the modern-day NBA, and I’ve seen our local team, the Charlotte Bobcats, in person three times in their eight seasons here — each time someone either gave me a ticket or paid me to write about it.
That streak is still intact after I recently took my Sports Reporting class at Wingate University to see the Bobcats play the New Orleans Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena for a class assignment.
And as I write, the other streak that’s still intact is the 22-game losing string that’s probably going to give the Bobcats the dubious distinction of having the worst season in NBA history, winning percentage wise.
Barring a victory over the New York Knicks at home on Thursday, the Bobcats, 7-58 after a loss to the Orlando Magic tonight, will break the record established by the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who finished 9-73. Only the lockout-shortened 66-game schedule prevents the Bobcats from plumbing even further depths of badness.
It’s quite a different scenario from the last time I saw a Bobcats game, about this time two years ago. The team was headed for its first appearance in the playoffs. Basketball legend Michael Jordan had just bought the team from its unpopular original owner, billionaire former TV executive Bob Johnson. And arguably the best teaching coach in the game, Larry Brown, seemed to have the team headed in the right direction.
It all fell apart quckly, as the Bobcats traded away or didn’t re-sign good players like center Gerald Wallace, possibly the best player in the team’s short history; forward Stephen Jackson, a reliable scorer; and former North Carolina Tar Heel standout Raymond Felton, a solid NBA point guard. Brown left after a 9-19 start to the 2010-2011 season.
And that’s led to this season’s disaster, which has also included a 16-game losing streak as well as the current one, which actually won’t match the NBA record 26 straight games lost by last season’s Cleveland Cavaliers.
The debacle has led to sports talk radio discussions along the lines of “Would the NCAA champion Kentucky Wildcats beat the Bobcats?” and “Is the team deliberately tanking the season?”
While it’s fun fodder for debate, the answer to both questions is no. While the Bobcats are a bad professional team, they are professionals and surely would prevail against the talented though youthful collegians. (It’s an interesting thing to think about because at least one of the five Kentucky players who recently entered the draft will probably end up a Bobcat.)
As to the “tanking” question, there’s little to be gained in today’s NBA by deliberately losing games, as the 1983-84 Houston Rockets have long been suspected of. Their 14-68 record got them two first-round draft choices which turned into Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, and which led to the current lottery system for the draft. The Bobcats have only a 25 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick.
And even if they were tanking, they didn’t have to be this bad. The next worst team is the 19-46 Washington Wizards, who look like the “Showtime”-era Los Angeles Lakers by comparison.
Anyway, the class seemed to enjoy the outing, if not the game. Here’s a picture of them on press row.
It was a low-scoring affair that the Hornets won 75-67 after the Bobcats, led by ex-Duke standout Gerald Henderson‘s 27 points, stayed close most of the way.
(As one of the class members noted later, after I asked her what she thought about the game: “I was surprised that the game was so slow, and that they missed so many shots.”)
That’s as good an analysis of the team’s problems as I’ve seen anywhere else. And it’s what you get in the NBA at the end of the season in a game between two teams at the bottom of their respective divisions. The Hornets, who improved to 19-42 with the win, haven’t come out on the good end of many games where they shot 34 percent from the field, as they did on this night. (The Bobcats shot 31 percent.)
After the game, the class got to walk through a reporter’s typical post-game routine. To get both perspectives, we sat in on the post-game Bobcats press conference, a cursory appearance by Charlotte assistant coach Steven Silas, son of Bobcats’ head coach Paul Silas, and then hit the Hornets’ locker room for some quotes from their players.
We’ve talked in the class about locker room access — an overrated experience in my book, but still a useful experience for the kids. And since our group included several females, I served as an advance party to make sure everyone was “decent.”
The Hornets seemed more relieved to find someone they could beat than jubilant. But maybe they were just tired. The schedule this season was compressed, with fewer off days, to get in the 66 games after the late start beginning on Christmas Day.
Hornets point guard Greivis Vasquez, who was a great ACC player at Maryland, sat with his feet in a bucket of ice and leaned back in his tiny cubicle in the visitors’ locker room. He led New Orleans’ scorers with 20 points.
“It’s good just to get a win,” he said. “We’re playing for next year now. We’ve got a pretty good core of players and hopefully we can be better next season.”
The Bobcats, who can’t go anywhere but up, can only hope for the same thing.