The Charlotte Hornets have developed a reputation for, uh, having an affinity for former North Carolina Tar Heels. Ever since they were reincarnated as the Charlotte Bobcats, a strong pipeline of former UNC players have moved through the Queen City.
In their inaugural 2005 draft they quickly pounced on NCAA champions and in-state heroes Raymond Felton and Sean May. At the time, it was a logical choice. The team needed some familiar faces as they rebuilt the team’s brand following a two year hiatus. Getting Michael Jordan to sign on as a minority partner later that year seemed to confirm this strategy.
The trend didn’t end there. In 2007 Larry Brown, who had won the NBA title just three years earlier with the Detroit Pistons, was welcomed as the head coach. The hire made sense as Brown is unquestionably one of the best coaches to have ever roamed a sideline. It was difficult though, not to smirk and comment on another Tar Heel joining the team. Besides, any considerations of a “coincidence” went out the window when Buzz Peterson was hired later that year in a front office job and Jeff McInnis was signed for the 07-08 season.
Then in 2010 Michael Jordan became the majority owner. Since then, Brendan Haywood, Marvin Williams, P.J. Hairston, Tyler Hansbrough, Isaiah Hicks and Marcus Paige have also spent time in the organization. Just call them the Charlotte Tar Heels.
All kidding aside, this hiring trend isn’t slowing down.
Last week, the Charlotte Hornets announced the hiring of Mitch Kupchak to serve as the organization’s newest president and general manager. That’s no small announcement, as Kupchak was the architect who overaw the Lakers for 17 years. During his time with the team, the Lakers won five NBA titles and made seven total appearance in the NBA Finals. As a player, he won one title in 1978 with the Washington Bullets and two more with the Lakers in 1982 and 1985.
Many of you visiting this site know Kupchak was also a star at UNC. While at Chapel Hill, he was twice selected First-team all-ACC. In 1976 he earned the ACC Player of the Year, was named a consensus Second-team All-American, and earned an Olympic gold medal in Montreal. He was then drafted as the 13th overall pick in that summer’s NBA draft.
Kupchak has proven to be a winner at every phase of the game, so this hiring is about much more than a “Carolina Connection” as our own Christian Schneider touched on last fall. It’s a safe assumption, though, that the “Carolina Family” was certainly an added benefit.
Not surprisingly, the Hornets may not be done adding to their collection of Tar Heels. Over the weekend, news broke that Jerry Stackhouse was planning to be interviewed this week for the Hornets’ vacant head coaching position. That would be an intriguing move for all parties involved.
Stackhouse has only been a head coach, on any level, for the past two seasons. In 2016 he took over Raptors 905, the Toronto Raptors’ NBA G League affiliated team. In his first season, he led the team to the NBA G League championship and earned Coach of the Year honors. This past season, he returned to the G League finals, but lost to the Austin Toros in a best-of-three series. (Shout out to Kennedy Meeks, who played for Stackhouse this season. He finished with 23 points and 19 rebounds in the two losses).
Stackhouse has long held aspirations of coaching in the NBA. Though he has limited experience on the sidelines, the past two seasons are evidence that he is acclimating himself quite well. Whether or not Stackhouse gets his chance in the NBA next season remains to be seen.
If history is any indication, the Charlotte Hornets are one team that would take a chance on the former UNC star.