Charlotte had never seen an NBA player like Alonzo Mourning. The Charlotte Hornets drafted him in 1992. He was the second player taken. Shaquille O'Neal was first and Christian Laettner third.
After a holdout, Mourning charged into the NBA. He shot, knocked people around, rebounded and played defense. He deferred to nobody, including teammates. Although at 6-10 he was undersized for a center, his defensive timing was impeccable and he was intense as anybody in the league.
Mourning retired Thursday. He ended his career with the Miami Heat. He was different there. He raised a lot of money for charity. I read a story in Sports Illustrated by a writer I respect about what a great guy Alonzo was. I checked to make sure it was Mourning he was writing about.
We did not see that Alonzo here. On a team full of great guys, Mourning was not one of them. He was surly, he was angry and the nastiness with which he played accompanied him wherever he went. There was little humanity to him.
After a playoff loss to Chicago, Scottie Pippen of the Bulls walked into the Hornets locker room to congratulate the players.
I can't print what Mourning told him. I had heard the words before, but never in that combination.
The Hornets had an opportunity to be one of the league's best teams, but head coach Allan Bristow couldn't sell his stars -- Mourning, Larry Johnson and Kendall Gill -- on the concept. They were young and they were stars.
Johnson and Muggsy Bogues and Dell Curry gave the team its style and its soul. it was as interesting a collection of personalities as I've seen. But it just didn't work.
Finally, Mourning and owner George Shinn got in a war. Shinn wouldn't pay Mourning, who was in the final year of his contract, what he could make elsewhere and after a public battle the Hornets traded Mourning, LeRon Ellis and Pete Myers to Miami for Glen Rice, Khalid Reeves, Matt Geiger and a No. 1 draft pick.
The Hornets had two first round picks in the next draft. They used the second of the picks on Tony Delk, the guard out of Kentucky. They used the other on Kobe Bryant. In a deal cut before the draft, the Hornets traded Bryant to Los Angeles for Vlade Divac.
When I think of the all-time Charlotte Hornet greats, I think of Johnson and Muggsy Bogues and even Baron Davis. Had Mourning stayed, he, too, would have been one of the greats. But he was only a Hornet for three seasons.
There is no way to think about those teams without imagining what could have been.