Friday, April 29, 2016

Retcon This!

The Charlotte Hornets were formed as an NBA expansion team in 1988.  Owned by the infamous George Shinn, they played in Charlotte until 2002, when prolonged contention between Shinn, Charlotte city officials and Hornets fans resulted in Shinn moving his team to New Orleans, becoming the New Orleans Hornets.  In 2013, the team changed its name to the New Orleans Pelicans, in honor of Louisiana's state bird, the brown pelican.

The NBA and Charlotte business leaders held that the failure of the original Hornets franchise in Charlotte was attributable to fans’ dislike of Shinn, and was not indicative of the city’s capacity to sustain an NBA franchise.  Wikipedia:

While the Hornets put a competitive team on the court throughout the 1990s, the team's attendance began falling dramatically. Many attributed this lapse in popularity to the team's owner, George Shinn, who was slowly becoming despised by the people of the city….  The consensus was that while Charlotte was as basketball-crazy as ever, fans took out their anger at Shinn on the team.

So, in 2002, the NBA awarded a new Charlotte franchise to a group led by Black Entertainment Television founder Robert L. Johnson, to begin play in 2004.  The new franchise was named the Charlotte Bobcats, and was purchased in 2010, in its majority, by former NBA superstar Michael Jordan, who thus became the first former NBA player to become majority owner of a franchise.

In 2014, the Charlotte Bobcats officially renamed themselves the Charlotte Hornets, with the permission of the original franchise, which wasn’t using the name anymore.  Moreover the “Hornets” moniker has special significance to the city of Charlotte:

The name was derived from the city's fierce [opposition to the] British occupation during the Revolutionary War, which prompted the British commander, Lord Cornwallis, to refer to it as "a veritable hornet's nest of rebellion."

At a press conference regarding the change, team officials also announced that as part of a deal with the NBA and the Pelicans, the renamed Hornets reclaimed the history and records of the 1988–2002 Hornets.

Say what?  Wikipedia finds it necessary to clarify:

To restate and clarify a confusing series of events: after the 2002 season, the original Hornets moved to New Orleans. In 2004, Charlotte was granted a new franchise, the Bobcats. After the 2013-14 season, the Bobcats changed their name to the Hornets and reclaimed the history and records of the 1988–2002 Hornets. As a result, the Hornets are now retconned as having suspended operations from 2002 to 2004, while the Pelicans are now retconned as having joined the league in 2002 as an expansion team.

“Retconned”?  I had to look that one up.  According to Google, “retcon” is a verb, meaning to “revise (an aspect of a fictional work) retrospectively, typically by introducing a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on previously described events”  (emphasis mine).

The thing is, history is not a fiction that can be “retconned.”  No matter what deals are made, the history and records of the Charlotte Hornets from 1988 to 2002 are those of the original franchise, the one that moved to New Orleans.  You can’t “reassign” a past from one organization to another, no matter how much you pretend to do exactly that.  To assume that the people of Charlotte will be comforted by ignoring the facts and pretending that their present team was established in 1988 and “suspended operations” from 2002 to 2004 is condescending and insulting.  This deal, as well as its precedent, set by the NFL’s Cleveland Browns in 1996, is nothing less than historical revisionism that illegitimately distorts the historical record, and is the malevolent purview of totalitarian regimes, not professional sports leagues.  Are fans in Charlotte and Cleveland supposed to make believe that their franchises never abandoned them?

Dan Feldman of NBC Sports, reflecting on the Charlotte franchise name change and records “acquisition”:

This is a much more logical and satisfying reflection of NBA history and records….  Kudos to the Pelicans for following suit and helping to make this happen. The NBA and our sense of history is better for it.

Really, Mr. Feldman?  Our “sense of history” is better for something that fictionalizes the past and obscures history?  History can’t be altered so that we feel better about it.  Our “sense of history” can only be improved as we clarify the past, not as we obfuscate it   Obviously there are many things in the past that we would have liked to have happened differently, but, guess what, they didn’t!  And pretending they did doesn’t change anything.

I was born in Barranquilla, Colombia in 1961.  I left Colombia for the U.S. as a student in 1978, became a U.S. Resident in 1985, and a U.S. Citizen in 1994.  All true so far, but now, for the sake of argument, let’s say that I became a world famous tennis player, a constant leader in the ATP tour.  Let’s also say that in 1994 I changed my name to John Peters.

I became so famous that in 1990, a baby born in Barranquilla was named after me, Jack Azout. The city of Barranquilla, proud of my accomplishments, offered me a boatload of money in exchange for reassigning my history, through 1994, to the “new” Jack Azout.  I agreed.  So now, the 25 year-old Jack Azout that lives in Barranquilla is celebrated for his accomplishments on the world tennis circuit.  How ludicrous is that?

About as ludicrous as the 1988-2002 records of the “new” Charlotte Hornets.

Photo by Lin Pernille Kristensen [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons