CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CHARLOTTE SPORTS LIVE) – Once the most happening place in the Queen City, the Charlotte Coliseum, is now a construction site.
A visit there stirs the mind of some great memories and what might have been.
“Every time I go through Charlotte, I think about what if,” former Hornets center Alonzo Mourning admits.
Zo isn’t the only one who asks that question.
Had things gone another way?
Maybe the entire landscape of the NBA changes, and if the events of May 5, 1993, are any indication, a championship banner or two might even hang from the rafters at the Spectrum Center.
“There was so much energy in that arena when we were in the playoffs that year,” remembered Michael Zerrillo, who played Charlotte’s mascot Hugo during the team’s glory years.
With a chance to win their first playoff series in the team’s five-year existence, the Coliseum, the Hornets’ former home, was buzzing.
It was game four of a first-round matchup with the Celtics, and while Boston already had 16 NBA championships, Charlotte had a 2-1 series lead and a cool factor that no title could buy.
“We had some characteristic guys,” former Hornets guard Muggsy Bogues explained. “You know myself, LJ, Zo as well Johnny Newman. Dell Curry.”
And now, with all due respect to the leprechaun, this was the Hornet’s moment. They had the ball down one with just over three seconds to go.
“Boston has everyone d’d up,” says the former voice of the Hornets, Steve Martin. “But the guy they don’t have really d’d up is Mourning.”
It would be a mistake the Celtics would regret.
“I wasn’t planning on shooting the ball coming out of the time out,” Mourning admitted. “It was instincts that took over. Through the grace of gods, it fell through the net.”
What followed after his top-of-the-key-made jumper was pandemonium.
Hornet players rushed the court to tackle the rookie center out of Georgetown.
“It was amazing,” Bogues said. “It was a surreal moment for all of us.”
Mascots, too, apparently.
“I was the fifth one in on the pile,” said Zerrillo.
After getting one last stop, the Hornets would win 104-103.
“I had that feeling of, I have arrived,” Mourning says.
By winning the series, it felt like Charlotte had too.
“I mean, really! You ask anyone, ‘Hey, we’re going to win the whole thing,'” Martin joked.
But it never happened.
Charlotte would lose in the semifinal round to New York 4-1. Within three years, Mourning was gone, eventually winning a championship with the Heat. Miami became his home, while Charlotte was now his history.
“I hated leaving,” he said. “Because I thought I was going to spend my whole career there, but the basketball gods had bigger plans for me.”
Ultimately plans for the Coliseum were not as kind.
The building itself was imploded in 2007, and today the area is a growing neighborhood. Most there have no idea they’ve lived on basketball history. Mourning, however, has never forgotten his part in it.
“I have a picture of the shot,” Mourning said, smiling. “Me lying on the floor and all the guys on top of me with my arms stretched out. It’s a pretty cool picture.”
As far as mementos go, it’s a good one to have. Because, unlike a construction site, a still image provides only comfort and no hint of what might have been.