It’s a cliche opinion, but it still rings extremely true in the final stretch of the year. In the past week alone, we’ve seen more Grayson Allen shenanigans and the confirmed extension of the neverending war between UNC and the NCAA. It’s a bad time.
It’s year-end list season, and instead of compiling the best moments of 2016, we here at SportsChannel 8 have decided to recap the worst to fully capture how the past 12 months have ravaged our beloved sports teams. It’s like a trip down memory lane, but if the trip included I-40 traffic at 5:15 p.m. on Friday and the memories were those of getting an itchy sweater in that Christmas present you swore would be a Nintendo 64.
Without further ado (and in no particular order), here is the second installment of our eight worst North Carolina sports moments of 2016.
7. Purple Shirt Guy
Today’s installment takes us from the state capital to the Queen City of Charlotte, where the Hornets are currently playing some of their most consistent basketball in franchise history.
Led by stellar head coach Steve Clifford and a core of future All-Star Kemba Walker, Nic Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and an ever-improving Cody Zeller, the Hornets are on the cusp of something the franchise has failed to muster since basketball returned to Charlotte in 2004 in the form of the Bobcats: Relevance.
This year’s team has successfully carried over its formula for success from last season, utilizing stout defense and young talent to win games with an entertaining brand of basketball.
But the 2015-16 team felt just a little more special, in part because the wins came seemingly out of nowhere.
The preceding season, the 2014-15 campaign that (pun fully intended, get over it) brought buzz back to Charlotte with the return of the Hornets, beamed with promise of further improvement of a team that climbed into the 2014 NBA Playoffs. The Hornets were poised to pick up where they left off before getting swept by LeBron James and the Miami Heat, but instead found themselves trapped in a season riddled with poor offense, little chemistry, nagging injuries and a whole lot of Lance Stephenson.
After that incredible season, expectations evaporated from Buzz City. Bobcats Legend Gerald Henderson and lottery pick Noah Vonleh were traded for Batum. Jeremy Lin came on board after a one-year stint as a Los Angeles Laker. The Hornets drafted Frank Kaminksy over local favorite Justise Winslow (maybe unless you’re Brice Johnson).
The Hornets reinvented themselves in the offseason, but a playoff run still looked unlikely on the heels of a disastrous 2014-15.
Instead, however, Charlotte put together a magical season. The team improved by 15 wins with several coming in memorable fashion. Kemba’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day fitty-burger. Troy Daniels how do you do. Actually beating LeBron James.
It was awesome, and it led to a 6-seed for the Hornets in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Their foe: The Miami Heat.
For most Charlotte fans, the aspirations remained fairly low: Just win a damn playoff game. The franchise still lacked its first postseason victory since the advent of the Bobcats, and this team felt like it truly had a chance to knock off that important milestone.
This simple goal intensified after game one, where Miami blitzed Charlotte, 123-91. In game two, the Heat did more of the same, turning a close game into a blowout with a late first half run and never looking back, 115-103.
The series then shifted back to Buzz City, where the the Charlotte Hornets would play their first playoff game in The Hive since 2002. They would be without the ever-steady Nic Batum, facing a 2-0 deficit, but an electric crowd and 18-0 run in the third quarter gave Charlotte fans the win that eluded their franchise for 14 years.
Two days later, the Hornets held off a furious Heat rally (thanks in part to Kemba doing Kemba things in the fourth quarter), and the series was tied.
From there, expectations grew from playoff win to series win, and all Charlotte had to do was steal one game and continue to protect home court.
The first part seemed the far more daunting task, especially after the Hornets looked absolutely hapless in the first two games in the American Airlines Center. But, with time ticking down and Charlotte trailing by one, Courtney Lee did this:
Charlotte got the hard part done. Win in The Hive, and you get to the second round.
Only one man stood in the way.
Who would be the Heat’s most important player in game six? Hassan Whiteside? Goran Dragic? Dwyane Wade?
Here’s the scenario: Purple Shirt Guy has been barking at the Heat all series. He’s got these nice floor seats, he’s billowing with confidence, and apparently he’s got balls of steel, because he’s jawing at some of the best basketball players in the world.
The Hornets are in the midst of a desperate fourth quarter comeback. Walker, as he is wont to do, has put the entire city of Charlotte on his back. Dwyane Wade drains a his first 3-pointer since DECEMBER with three minutes to play to put Miami up, 90-81.
Kemba goes FULL KEMBA and sparks a 7-0 run to cut the lead to just one bucket.
Just whatever you do, don’t piss any He–
Wade makes his SECOND 3-pointer since December.
Charlotte scores a quick bucket to stay alive.
Seriously, man, this time just don’t anger Wa–
SON OF A BITCH.
Miami steals game six, and the Hornets never had a prayer in game seven. Ballgame. Series. Season.
Purple Shirt Guy may not be remembered as quite the catastrophic event as the Kris Jenkins shot or the Cam Newton fumbles, but given the context of what the Hornets were about to do, this is truly one of the most baffling endings to a Hornets game I can ever remember seeing.
I remember screaming at the TV (and collectively tweeting with the rest of North Carolina), “DUDE. JUST SIT DOWN.” There are many players in the NBA you don’t want to stir, and Dwyane Wade is definitively ONE OF THOSE GUYS.
The last time someone made this big of an ass of himself on the national stage at the expense of Charlotte, Roy Cooper took his office in Raleigh nine months later. And while Purple Shirt Guy didn’t get quite that level of comeuppance, his game six antics will forever live in North Carolina sports infamy.
Check back tomorrow for the next installment in the Bottom 8 North Carolina Sports Moments in 2016.