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Long-time Charlotte Hornets beat writer Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer passed away suddenly on June 1. As Hornets Chairman Michael Jordan said, “Rick became the source for Hornets news in Charlotte.” Rick was a respected journalist, a dedicated father and loyal friend. In lieu of flowers, the Bonnell family asks donations be made to the Charlotte Hornets Foundation to honor Rick’s passion and love for this community, the NBA and the Charlotte Hornets – the team he covered for 30+ years.
There were other, bigger, more important parts: Terrific reporter, proud father, loyal friend, compassionate neighbor. He was the dean of Charlotte Hornets basketball media and, for sheer continuity, one of the lions of NBA writers spanning parts of five decades. Rick also was that rare newspaper sports writer who loved his job, raved about his bosses and rooted for that dead-tree medium to thrive, or at least endure beyond his career, which he confided to me recently that he wanted to continue until he was at least 70 years old.
Bonnell was a valued member of a shrinking Charlotte Observer newsroom, but as is the case with most journalists even pre-pandemic, he spent more time out of the office on his beat than rubbing elbows inside. He was around colleagues like me – Rick took over as president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association when I stepped down in 2007 – as much he was any co-workers, and even more so the players, coaches, front-office execs and other members of the Hornets.
Billy King: Wow, I am at a loss for words. I just heard of the passing of @theobserver, Rick Bonnell. Longtime beat writer for the @Charlotte Hornets. Rick was a great friend who I met while he covered Duke during my playing days. A great writer and a gentle soul. Overall just a great guy. RIP Rick.
Rick Bonnell, an award-winning sportswriter for more than 33 years at The Charlotte Observer, was found dead in his home Tuesday. He was 63. Bonnell was The Observer’s first beat reporter to cover the Charlotte Hornets during their inaugural season in 1988-89, and he was still breaking stories on the Hornets beat throughout this past season. Jack Bonnell, Rick’s son, confirmed his father’s death Tuesday night and added that police had told him that there was no reason to suspect foul play.
Rick Bonnell was a generous colleague, father, foodie, beach-lover, Twitter aficionado, proud Syracuse graduate and “a guy who achieved his lifelong dream by covering an NBA team so long and so well,” according to his son. To sit next to Bonnell at a Hornets game, as I did hundreds of times over the years, was like sitting next to a hilarious version of a Hornets Wikipedia page.
Tom Haberstroh: Devastated to learn the news of my friend @Rick Bonnell’s death. He wore a tuxedo to cover the Hornets first game in 1988. I learned that in a beautiful tribute by @scott_fowler: charlotteobserver.com/sports/spt-col…
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