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The Life

Breaking up is hard to do
ESPN The Magazine

So the end is finally here for the Charlotte Hornets, and right about this time all you twisted, neck-craning voyeurs out there are probably wondering what it feels like to lose a major-league franchise.

It's simple, really. It's a bit like, well, uh ... Patty Hayosh.

You see, in almost every way, losing a sports franchise is exactly like breaking up with your high school girlfriend.

You know exactly how it goes. Here in Charlotte we've been bragging to everyone for the last few years about how we were gonna dump the Hornets, mainly because we thought she had smarmy parents (owners). Gonna be a free agent. Play the field. Have some fun. Be unattached for a while. Maybe date the Expos.

And all along our recently dumped single buddies (like Vancouver) have been telling us, Go ahead and break it off, you won't miss the NBA. "Heck, look at Denver," they said, "they've been going steady with the Nuggets for a long time and they're absolutely miserable. You're too much city to settle down on one team."

So we did it. We stopped buying her nice gifts (like a new arena). We stopped going out on dates (or to games). We stopped doing the little things (like paying the slightest bit of attention). We sent mixed messages (an 11th hour arena deal, a billionaire buyer) and told her she was looking kinda hot after winning that big playoff game against the Nets. And every time we stopped by her uncle (David Stern), he shot us a dirty, condescending look.

The problem is we didn't have the guts to just end it and be friends. No, we dragged it on and on because a part of us wasn't really sure we wanted to break up in the first place. So now, just as the NBA owners meet to approve the team's departure to New Orleans, we're having some second thoughts.

Prom night (the NBA Finals) may only be a few weeks away. But it's too late. She's already going steady with some slick dude who has more coin to throw around and a much nicer arena. Sucker, we say. They won't last any longer than a season or two.

Still, it stings. First things first, we need to make sure everyone knows we broke up with her , and not vice versa. To make her jealous we'll flirt with all of her best friends (Orlando, Memphis, Toronto and New Jersey). And at first every song on the radio will remind us of our Hornets. (We're Jamming ... reeer-ssss-waoo ... Traveling Man ... sssreeershhhwaoooo ... Jump ... weeeooowreer ... Love Removal Machine -- sorry, I just like The Cult). We remember the good times -- eight years of leading the NBA in attendance -- and we sob to our friends about how she was the best thing that ever happened to us.

And gosh, we tell them, remember all those championships.

Wait ... they say, shaking us, sick of this incessant whining ... there never were any championships. Nothing even close.

The owners took all that money from all those 24,000-seat sellouts and, instead of signing our star free agents or building their own freakin' arena, they pocketed the coin and cried about how they were losing money. Remember her dad (George Shinn), the bible banger who ended up on Court TV for what seemed like a month? Remember Anthony Mason? Derrick Coleman? The Bobby Phills tragedy?

Remember her hanging all over those other guys (Louisville, Norfolk, New Orleans) right in front of our face? Remember her obnoxious sense of entitlement when she demanded a quarter-billion dollar birthday present (arena)? Remember all the lies and the ugly bickering and posturing? Remember how pious and obnoxious her uncle was?

So tell us again why we want her back?

We were just a geeky little town when we first started going out, and we thought dating the Hornets would bring us a lot of national attention -- we just never dreamed it would all be so negative and nasty. But now we're a worldwide banking hub with an NFL team, a great little college hoops program (the Charlotte 49ers) and a hot NHL team (the 'Canes) right up the road.

Shoot, look at our buddies who have broken up with a pro sports team -- L.A., Vancouver, Cleveland, Houston, Minneapolis, Hartford -- none of them seem any worse off. In fact they all seemed kinda cool for rebelling against a society of sports zombies that says you have to have a team in your town, no matter what the cost, to be considered cool.

'Course, most of them eventually hooked back up.

Will we?

Ya know, it was fun while it lasted between us and the Hornets. We had some laughs. Some good times. Some poignant moments. But now, this is it, we want our letter jacket back.

We're both better off. We wish her well. No hard feelings.

It just wasn't meant to be.

David Fleming is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at flemfile@aol.com.



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