Attendance is no longer an issue
On December 5th last, I attended my first Hornets game. The Detroit Pistons, one of the top-tier teams in the NBA the last half decade, were in town on a Wednesday night and just over 10,000 people showed up to see them take on the home team. There wasn't much noise when the Hornets raced out to an early 15-point lead, and the Pistons fought back to win, 91-76.
It was a frequent occurrence early in the season; few fans showing up to see the Hornets battle the cream of the NBA. There was a Friday night showdown with the defending champion Spurs in November, when the Arena was 2,000 bodies shy of a sellout. Only 12,223 were on hand to witness the Hornets put an end to their 21-game losing streak against the Mavericks on a Saturday evening in early November, when Peja Stojakovic nailed a triple with 2.9 seconds remaining to force overtime. Two weeks later, the fantastic-to-watch Phoenix Suns were in town, and just 13,705 saw Chris Paul drop a 20-10 on Steve Nash and lead the Hornets to a three-point victory.
The Hornets put together a surprisingly good 20-11 record through November and December, yet only managed to sellout the New Orleans Arena once in fifteen attempts (thanks, LeBron).
Fast forward to March. The Hornets are still surprising with frequent wins over the NBA's best, but nowadays it's standing room only at the Arena. Eight of the past thirteen games have been sold out, including those against starless opponents with losing records, such as the Memphis Grizzlies and the New Jersey Nets (sorry, Vince).
And the fans are not content just to show up and watch quietly. Hell no. Folks are dancing, yelling and cheering all night long, appreciating everything from a Ryan Bowen floor burn to a Chris Paul free-throw. And then they turn on the opposing team. Just ask Bruce Bowen and the San Antonio Spurs, who seemed shell-shocked by the tidal wave of boos that rained down on them two weeks ago. Ditto the Boston Celtics, who got the same treatment Saturday night. That may have had something to do with all those uncharacteristic turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Suddenly, the Hornets have a huge home court advantage.
Let's use a wonderful graph-type thing to show how the Hornets attendance has grown since the season opener against Sacramento. Click on the image for a full-size version…
As you can see, we're going from strength to strength. Our average attendance now stands at 14,361 since December 1st, with the goal being to average 14,735 per game between then and the end of next season. Hit that target, and the Hornets cannot opt out of their current lease.
It's becoming pretty much a given that we will surpass that target and easily average 15,000+ next season. George Shinn is believing it too, as evidenced by his desire to negotiate a long-term deal, minus the attendance benchmarks or any other exit clauses. That would keep the Hornets in New Orleans for at least ten years.
So I guess it's safe now to say that the Hornets' return to New Orleans has been a huge success. Thank you to all the players that have played their asses off and made the games worth watching. Thank you to Jeff Bower for putting this magnificent team together. Thank you to all the fans — even the bandwagoners — who show up at the Arena for each game and prove that New Orleans can indeed support a professional basketball team. Thank you to all the Hornets marketing staff who have done a great job connecting with the community and getting asses in seats. The comeback has been a true team effort and everybody should be proud of the result.
I'll leave you with the following: When Chris Paul dropped two free-throws to put the Hornets up by six points with 0:24 left against the Celtics on Saturday night, the first twenty seconds of this clip was played on the big screen during the ensuing timeout…