The New Orleans Hornets broadcast crew dined at Mickey Mantle's on Tuesday night. A patron stopped by the table and asked Gil McGregor for an autograph.
Nice touch. Let the Hornets know they're remembered and appreciated here in the city they made Loud.
Nothing against the gregarious McGregor, a fun analyst (“Rondo, he's no Hondo”) who helped teach us the NBA, but he's about the deepest tie left from the Hornet days.
Chris Paul? Gone. David West? Gone. Any Hornet who was here during the two years of relocation? Gone.
No players. No coaches. No Hugo. Not even George Shinn, who sold the Hornets 14 months ago.
Just broadcasters Bob Licht, Sean Kelley and McGregor, plus publicist Dennis Rogers and equipment manager David Jovanovic, known affectionately around the league as Big Shot.
No one else in the Hornet entourage was here for any of those two years when OKC and the NBA started a beautiful friendship.
Time was, the Hornets' return brought a little extra buzz to downtown. No real allegiance to the Hornets; most everyone wanted to see Russell Westbrook outplay CP3 and Kevin Durant school West. But it was nice to see the guys again.
Nice to remember those crazy nights when CP3 might make a whirling dervish of a play; when West might hit a last-second jumper; when Shinn would sit straddling his midcourt seat, cheering wildly for baskets or the halftime act, it was all the same to him.
We might not have known how many fouls were required to reach the bonus, or what in the heck they meant by defensive three seconds, or why that little arc was in the middle of the lane, but we sure knew high times when we experienced them.
There was no buzz Wednesday night in Chesapeake Arena, other than the general zaniness over the Thunder and its best-in-the-NBA record. After a 101-91 victory, the Thunder is 15-3.
We're coming up on five years since the Hornets' farewell, and with apologies to Natalie Cole, from now on, the Hornets are only someone that we used to love.
“Has it been five years?” said Kelley, the radio voice. “Doesn't seem like it.”
In some ways, seems longer. The last time the Hornets played a home game in OKC, Durant was a student at the University of Texas, Westbrook had just averaged 3.4 points a game as a UCLA freshman, James Harden was a senior at Artesia High School in suburban Los Angeles and 17-year-old Serge Ibaka had just arrived in Spain from the Congo.
A lot can happen in five years.
New Orleans Times-Picayune writer John Reid, who covered the Hornets their two years in OKC, got turned around Wednesday driving into downtown on the relocated Interstate 40. “They moved the freeway,” Reid said.
Kelley noted the Devon tower construction, the renovated arena and the new “crosstown” (anybody who calls downtown I-40 the “crosstown” really did immerse themselves here) and said, “You can't help but smile with how things are going here.”
Licht, too, spoke fondly of his OKC days. His family moved here; his daughter attended Bishop McGuinness. She's got class rings from both the Irish and the Louisiana high school from which she graduated after the Hornets left.
“Everyone was so welcoming,” Licht said. “And you know what, it feels the same now.”
Sorry, doesn't feel the same for us. Not anymore.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.