Sports

Game not names will bring out Bobcat fans

It's not the people, Michael, it's the product.

In case you're like me and only watch the NBA so you'll know when it's over, I'll clue you in on what's been happening with the Charlotte Bobcats, also known as the NBA team 15 minutes north of us.

Didn't know we had one that close, you say? You're not alone.

Not many go to the games because not many care, Charlotte ranking 27th of the 30 NBA teams in attendance last year. To the people of North Carolina, who take their hoops very seriously, the NBA is an example of just how low the game can sink.

The last mid-range NBA jump shot I saw was in a glass case down at the museum. Watching a game now is as much about the sideline soap operas and tattoos as it is putting the ball in the hole. Plus, who wants to fork over next week's salary to watch what amounts to a lower version of the Ultimate Fighting Championship?

The Bobcats, planning for their fourth season, haven't drawn much since their inception. The reasons why are raging debates among Charlotte's citizens and media representatives, and even sports-talk radio hosts, if you want to admit you listen to them.

So when Michael Jordan took over as part-owner of the team two years ago, having final say on all basketball-related matters, I was intrigued. Maybe he would be the guy to turn the ship around, because he's Michael Jordan -- so close to sainthood in his home state he could probably win 80 percent of the presidential vote even if he turned in his nomination the day before the election.

Jordan has surrounded himself with people he trusts, which makes sense. It's either just how he thinks or plain coincidence that most of them, like himself, have some connection with the University of North Carolina.

The latest came four days ago when Jordan persuaded Buzz Peterson, former hoops coach at Coastal Carolina, to take over as the Bobcats' director of player personnel. Peterson was Jordan's roommate at UNC, the guy who was polishing his North Carolina high school player of the year award while Jordan was drilling the game-winner for the 1982 national championship.

Peterson's hiring followed the addition of ex-UNC star Phil Ford as an assistant coach. With the roster already containing ex-Tar Heels Raymond Felton, Sean May and Jeff McInnis, don't be surprised if the Bobcats will use their upcoming No. 8 draft pick on whatever UNC player is available.

It could be a different approach from the way Jordan tried to run the Washington Wizards. Perhaps he's wisely trying to switch gears and do everything the opposite of that disaster, or maybe he's figuring by grouping the team with familiar faces, it will help increase the ticket sales and the basketball.

Whatever the reason, I don't think anything's going to help. Change the team's primary color from orange to baby blue, put a chain location of The Ram's Head Rathskeller next door, hire Dean Smith to coach -- none of it's going to improve the attendance.

Perhaps a winning team would help that, but no one will know until a winning team takes the floor (and I'm not talking about whenever San Antonio or Cleveland visits).

Jordan could hire the starting lineup for UNC's 2005, 1993 or 1982 national champions and I doubt it would help (although it'd be interesting to see if Fred Brown, the Georgetown guard who flipped a perfect pass to UNC's James Worthy while trying to set up the game-winning shot in '82, would get an invitation). Bad basketball is bad basketball, and no matter who's coaching, hiring or directing, the game is what has to improve.

The atmosphere at a Bobcats game is constant noise, ranging from the timeout promo guy shouting into a microphone to the motorcycle engines revved over the loudspeaker to the trodding of several feet on discarded peanut bags. Maybe the marketing folks thought the only way to distract paying customers from awful hoops was to surround them with flashing lights and shooting flames.

It doesn't hide the game.

If Jordan really wants to help, I'd suggest practicing with the Bobcats and show them the style and technique that made him the greatest player in NBA history. Only then can the game return to what it was when he, Bird, Magic and Barkley ruled the game, and perhaps draw fans who wax nostalgic about when basketball was still fun, instead of an episode of "Cops."

Or at least hire some ex-Duke stars.

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