As a kid, he loved the Charlotte Hornets. John Morgan ’04 and his father – a season-ticket holder throughout the original franchise’s 14-season run (1988–2002) – rarely missed a tip-off. And they had great seats, kitty-corner to the visitor’s bench, close to the action.
“I saw the sweat on greats like Michael Jordan,” Morgan remembers, “and saw all the best moments of the Hornets history right there with my dad.”
For much of that era, the Hornets were a winning team. But, for Morgan and other locals, they were much more than that. Indeed, Hornets fandom was about more than basketball; it was about rallying around something that belonged to them. The Hornets helped foster a sense of civic pride in the burgeoning metropolis that was Charlotte. (The city’s population has almost doubled over the last two decades.)
Morgan remained a fan when he moved to Charleston to study art at the College, and drove home frequently to join his dad in their usual seats in the old Charlotte Coliseum.
After a while, though, something started to feel different. And, eventually, in 2002, the Hornets moved to New Orleans. Morgan recalls the exodus as sad and dramatic.
“Everything about it was out of the people’s control,” he says. “The city never turned their back on the Hornets.”
But Charlotte wasn’t without an NBA team for long: Two years later, the Charlotte Bobcats was established as an NBA expansion team. It was around that same time that Morgan landed a job as an art teacher in the area.
He tried to be gung-ho about the Bobcats, hoping to recapture some of the magic he’d felt growing up as a Hornets fan. But that magic eluded him, and he suspected he wasn’t alone. The city’s reaction to the Bobcats seemed tepid at best.
Take, for example, a crucial game in 2010: “We were making a push for a playoff spot, but the arena was half-full, and those who were there were tapping away on their phones,” Morgan recalls.
It was after that game that Morgan decided to do something. He created a Facebook page dedicated to bringing the Hornets, and the passionate following they’d inspired, back to Charlotte. He called the page “We Beelieve,” riffing on a slogan the Hornets used back in their glory days, and he managed it on the side, as a hobby.
But, in December 2010, when the Hornets were sold back to the NBA, Morgan sensed an opportunity and decided to up the ante. He started with a Change.org petition, which eventually got more than 11,000 signatures. And, suddenly, his Facebook following was skyrocketing. Today, his page has more than 26,000 likes.
Morgan, you should know, is somewhat of a Renaissance man: Last year alone, he appeared on Jeopardy! and designed a sculpture that’s now on display in the National Museum of the Marine Corps near Washington, D.C. He also cuts a dramatic figure: He has long hair, chiseled features and often wears a white tuxedo with a Hornets T-shirt to Bobcats games. That’s worked to his advantage, helping him become a prominent fixture at the Time Warner Arena.
And, to further increase the We Beelieve movement’s visibility, Morgan teamed up with another local site devoted to reinstating the Hornets, Bringbackthebuzz.com. Together, the two groups mobilized fans, pushing them to let their voices be heard and encouraging them to wear vintage Hornets gear to games.
In January 2013, some 2,000 Beelievers – decked out in teal and purple and chanting their support for the Hornets – sat together in one section of the stadium as part of the “Swarm Time Warner” rally that Morgan helped organize. The media took note. Suddenly major news outlets like ESPN and The New York Times were covering the We Beelieve movement – and quoting Morgan in their pieces.
It wasn’t long before Michael Jordan, majority owner and chairman of the Bobcats, announced that the team would rebrand as the Charlotte Hornets for the 2014–2015 season.
Morgan, now a season-ticket holder himself, couldn’t be more excited about the upcoming season, when father and son will once again sit side by side, cheering on the Charlotte Hornets.
“It’s all come full circle,” he smiles.
– Bridget Herman Venatta ’08