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It's a pride thing in Charlotte
by Pete Johnson / April 29, 2002

Despite an overtime loss in game two and Jamal Mashburn’s illness, the Hornets have taken a two to one series lead and are poised to do something no one thought would happen: beat the Magic and win the East. Superior coaching and exemplary play notwithstanding, the Hornets’ drive seems to be fueled less by glory and more by revenge. It’s as if they’re thumbing their nose at Charlotte, threatening to win it all; scoffing at the idea of a victory parade while leaving the fair-weather fans lining the streets in rapt anticipation, only to see empty floats pass by.

The collective media and fan silence surrounding their season has afforded the Hornets the Zen-dojo oneness Phil Jackson used to yammer on about. Most players are so used to the spotlight that if it were taken away, they’d probably curl up in a fetal position and incessantly speed dial their agents for comfort -- but Charlotte? Please, the way these guys are playing they could win games if their hometown was Katmandu. Regardless of the communal abandonment forced on the team, the Hornets are winning, and by doing so, are shushing the din of speculation trying to make sense of the chaotic east.

This season Charlotte enjoyed the second best road record in the Eastern Conference, although that’s not entirely surprising considering how bad their relationships are at home. Statistically speaking though, you have to give the Hornets credit for persevering through it all, and more importantly give the veteran members kudos for keeping the faith -- recent acquisition and veteran NBA forward George Lynch in particular. This guy is containing Tracy McGrady like no one else has all year and has been putting up decent numbers on offense to boot. His effort has been essential in controlling Orlando’s explosive offense, frustrating them enough to make hasty shots and give up turnovers.

Orlando players have called the lack of fan support in Charlotte ‘pathetic’ and have loudly criticized the attendance numbers, saying in effect that playing in Charlotte is like playing inside a high school gymnasium. Even with all this trash-talk, no one on the Hornets seems to be phased. Why? Because they’re playing for respect—determined to humiliate those people who’ve written them off.

Defeated or victorious, any player who’s ever been involved in a postgame interview has at one time or another summed up a game by answering one question: who wanted it more? It seems like this postseason, fans or no fans, the Hornet’s players will be the ones feeling the up side to these locker room junkets. Why? Simple, because they DO want it more.

Heart has always played second fiddle to ability in the NBA. Intensity and desire are often overlooked as characteristics that win basketball games. Individual play and stats seem to have surpassed them, leaving with it an indelible trail of champions whose victory is directionally proportional to the collective team salary. The Hornets are not that team, and have never been that team. Their victory in the East, if it comes, will come from hard work, dedicated coaching and that Mike Singaltary/Eye of the Tiger kind of concentration. But mostly it will come from having a beef with the nonbelievers. There’s no motivation better than proving someone wrong and the Hornets have an entire municipality to stick it to.

If you look at the Hornets you will see a group of not so famous players, in a not so famous town, who don’t seem to get along with anyone very famously. But by putting the emphasis on unity and selflessness rather than stardom and flare, the Hornets have weaved their way through the regular season one pass at a time, and are now carving themselves a direct path to the postseason prize.

Pete Johnson is a freelance writer based in North Carolina and a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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