Sport Heritage Review

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Basketball and heritage in Charlotte

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a Charlotte Hornets basketball game at the Spectrum Center (formerly the Time Warner Cable Arena). I had been to the arena on a few occasions since moving to the Carolinas in 2009, seeing both basketball games and minor league hockey games at the venue over the years. This particular trip was mainly about taking my five-year-old son to his first NBA game and, given that the game was on a Sunday afternoon and against the Phoenix Suns (who are not the most marketable opponent) it was an affordable weekend outing.

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Despite having been to the arena on several occasions, I hadn’t stopped to think about the many different representations – and layers – of sport heritage on display at the venue. For example, in the entrance foyer there is a large mural depicting various teams and players from (I would assume) college basketball in North Carolina. Interestingly, not only was there a representation of basketball heritage that wasn’t from the professional ranks, much of the mural was dedicated to women’s basketball. Many arenas tend represent the heritage and history of the current tenant – such as at Rogers Place in Edmonton, they tend to be about famous players and championships – whereas this heritage mural not only was not about the Hornets/Bobcats, it had college sports, women’s sports and, more specifically, African American women’s basketball. From the arena’s website, the mural is described as “the History of Basketball in the Piedmont and the action of the game.” All heritage representations are as much about exclusion as inclusion, so it is interesting that many different forms and types of sport heritage that are often excluded are explicitly included in this mural:

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In a similar vein, most sport heritages – particularly at venues – tend to be celebratory (again, representing famous moments and championships, etc.) One of the more interesting heritage displays at the arena was the history of professional basketball teams in Charlotte. Of course, many facilities will link the current team with teams from previous eras. The interesting aspect of these displays is that many of the teams that were represented had, for lack of a better term, ignominious histories – in that they ceased operations or were relocated to other cities. Again, the fact that there was at least a bit of a “warts and all” acknowledgment of the history of professional basketball in Charlotte was both welcome and surprising.

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Finally, there are the multiple and layered heritage narratives with the Hornets nickname. Charlotte’s first incarnation of NBA basketball were known as the Hornets, and when the team moved to New Orleans in 2002 – taking the name with them. Charlotte regained their NBA franchise in 2004 but, as the “Hornets” name was still being used in New Orleans, the new franchise called themselves the Bobcats. Only in 2014 did the Hornets moniker return, so there is a (as myself and Sean Gammon termed it) “heritage of sport” association with the name. Similarly, the Hornets name was used in minor league baseball in the city for many years as well.

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However, it also has a broader association too, as the Hornets name is associated with the city’s resistance to the British in the Revolutionary War. In particular, according the to the Mecklenburg Historical Association (Charlotte is located in Mecklenburg County) “Lord Cornwallis came to Charlotte in the fall of 1780 on his way to destroy the Continental Army, but he only stayed sixteen days.  The local partisans were just too hot for him, and he later referred to Charlotte as ‘A Hornet’s Nest of Rebellion.'” Although there is nothing at the arena that necessarily denotes the association between the team’s name and the Revolutionary War, it is assumed that for many Hornets fans there is a dual heritage relationship: both that of the city’s sport heritage as well as its broader identity in American history.

Although the many sport heritage representations at Spectrum Center are, ultimately, nostalgic if not celebratory, the forms and types of heritage were different than many similar venues that I have experienced. Celebrating and recognizing different types and forms of sport heritage – and not merely myopically reflecting the past of the current franchise – provides a unique form of sport heritage. In many ways, it felt more like a celebration of basketball in Charlotte rather than just using heritage as another form of advertisement and promotion. Even the heritage markers that were sponsored had a surprising amount of depth and were not simply about selling jerseys and t-shirts. Given that I went to the game with a five-year-old, I didn’t have the freedom to explore the venue’s heritage representations in more detail (although, I did notice that there were many displays simply about the city itself, and not necessarily linked to basketball or sport). However, I think the Spectrum Center provides a good template for other arenas and sports facilities looking to represent their sporting past.


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