CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The most telling sign that the Hornets' days in Charlotte are officially over came in a call to their offices Thursday, a day after their season ended.
"Thank you for calling the Charlotte Sting," the recorded message said, referring to the WNBA franchise that shared the Charlotte Coliseum with the Hornets. When placed on hold, highlights from Sting victories are played instead of Hornets wins.
Yep, it's official.
The Hornets are already gone, their 14-year existence in Charlotte ending with Wednesday night's 103-95 loss to the New Jersey Nets in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
All that is left is for the moving vans to pull up to Hive Drive, pack up the last of the purple and teal gear and head on down the road to New Orleans, where the Hornets will begin playing next season.
The players have long known their fate, but the sting of it still hit following their final game as the Charlotte Hornets.
"It hurts, especially since I was drafted there," guard Baron Davis said. "It hurts, but this is part of the NBA, part of being a professional."
The players never did say goodbye or pack up anything of their things before leaving for New Jersey. Needing a win to stay alive in the series, they refused to admit a loss would end their days in Charlotte.
So there was little time for reflection and no time to think about the future.
Now that it's here, there's no where to hide.
"I'll remember all the good memories," said guard David Wesley, at five years in Charlotte the longest-tenured Hornet.
"All the people I've had a chance to meet build relationships with. But I plan to continue those relationships and build even more here."
Wesley is likely the only Hornet who will stay in Charlotte even after the team has moved. He spent several years building his dream home here, has most of his family living nearby, and loves the city enough to make it his permanent home.
But most everyone else is gone. Coach Paul Silas has said he could never envision himself living in a city without an NBA team, which Charlotte became late Wednesday night, even though he, too, loves his home and the city.
The Hornets fought hard to prolong their days in Charlotte, hovering around the .500 mark as injuries crippled them through most of the regular season.
Leading scorer Jamal Mashburn missed 42 games with a strained abdominal muscle, Wesley and forward George Lynch both missed significant time with foot injuries.
It was all they could do to stay afloat, finally making a push for the playoffs when Mashburn returned. They reeled off seven straight victories late in the season to put them in postseason contention, then rallied to earn the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Hornets did it all in front of dwindling crowds and amid speculation about their future in Charlotte. They had essentially been a lame-duck franchise since last June, when voters soundly defeated a referendum on a new arena.
When the arena plan fell, so was almost any chance of keeping the team in Charlotte. Ownership began courting other cities to make them an offer, with so much activity it became dizzying to keep up with.
They finally settled on New Orleans, then waited for approval to move.
It came last week, in the midst of their playoff run. But like the rest of their season, that didn't come easy, either.
Mashburn went down with a virus 10 minutes into Game 1 of their first round series. He was hospitalized twice, treated for anemia and a vitamin deficiency, only to be hit with vertigo that left him bedridden and unable to even attend the games, let alone watch them.
Without him, the Hornets didn't stand a chance against the Nets.
"Who knows what might have been with Mash?" Silas said. "Maybe we could have done something special that would have closed our time out here on a high note. Who knows?"
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