Sports Teams of Charlotte
Sports in Charlotte, North Carolina have a long and varied history. The city is home to teams at nearly every level of American sports including the Carolina Panthers of the National Football League and Charlotte Hornets of the National Basketball Association. In addition to serving as the home base for several teams the city plays host to many events of national and international importance including the longest race in NASCAR, the annual Coca-Cola 600 and golf’s Wells Fargo Championship.
Baseball has been played at a high level in Charlotte since at least 1892 when the Charlotte Hornets debuted in a competition known as the South Atlantic League, later a team called the Charlotte Presbyterians took part in the North Carolina Association before reverting to the Hornets name and bouncing around a number of leagues until 1972. In 1976 following a short spell with no professional baseball in the city wrestling promoter Jim Crockett, Jr. brought the Charlotte O’s to the Charlotte, the O’s would later become the modern-day Charlotte Knights.
Between 1969 and 1974 Greensboro’s American Basketball Association team, the Carolina Cougars played a number of home games each season at the original Charlotte Coliseum, the team would also play games in Raleigh and Winston-Salem. It would be until 1988 that Charlotte would be awarded its first major league team in the form of the Charlotte Hornets of the NBA. The team played out of the 24,000-seat Charlotte Coliseum, known affectionately by fans as “The Hive”, and would lead the league in attendance for several seasons before an acrimonious fall out with owner George Shinn triggered a number of events which led to the team relocating to New Orleans in 2002. However, it didn’t take long for the Queen City to return to the NBA when a group led by businessman Bob Johnson, the founder of BET, was awarded a franchise which would come to be known as the Charlotte Bobcats. In 2013, eleven years after the Hornets left the city, the Bobcats, now playing at the Spectrum Center, announced the team would assume the city’s beloved nickname following the rebranding of the New Orleans team as the Pelicans.
The history of professional football in Charlotte began in 1967, when the American Football League staged a preseason exhibition game between the Houston Oilers and the New York Jets. Pro football returned under bizarre circumstances following the relocation of a World Football League team, the Charlotte Hornets, to the city from New York in the middle of the 1974 season. Disillusioned with life at the dilapidated Downing Stadium and saddled with heavy debt from financing renovations to the facility the ownership of the New York Stars sold the franchise to a Charlotte-based group. The Hornets played out of American Legion Memorial Stadium and were a moderate success on the field and in the stands but struggled financially and eventually shuttered operations after an abbreviated 1975 season when the entire league shut down. Professional football would return to Charlotte in 1992 in the form of the Charlotte Rage, an Arena Football League team that played out of the Coliseum. The Rage would qualify for the playoffs twice (in 1993 & 1994) before closing in 1996. The Arena League would return to Charlotte in 2003 when the Carolina Cobras relocated from Raleigh. The Cobras short tenure in Charlotte is memorable for appearances by future Pro Bowler Rob Bironas and future WWE wrestler Thaddeus Bullard, better known as Titus O’Neil.
In 1987 businessman Jerry Richardson announced his intentions to bring the National Football League to the Carolinas with a bid centered in Charlotte. The Richardson-lead group staged several NFL exhibitions around the Carolinas and in 1991 formally filed an expansion bid which was unanimously approved by the NFL’s 28 owners making the Carolina Panthers the 29th NFL franchise. The Panthers spent the 1995 season south of the border at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium while Bank of America Stadium in Uptown was being prepared for the team’s 1996 season. To date the Panthers have appeared in two Super Bowls, Super Bowl XXXVIII and Super Bowl 50, and lay claim to four conference championships and six division championships.
Since 2005 Charlotte has been home to a women’s football team called the Carolina Queens. The Queens play home games at Hopewell High’s stadium in Huntersville.
Despite being a warm-weather, Southern city, Charlotte has a long ice hockey history that dates back to 1956 when the original Charlotte Checkers were formed and began play in the Eastern Hockey League. The Checkers would play in the EHL for several seasons before moving to the more geographically-friendly Southern Hockey League where the team would win two championships before folding with the rest of the league in 1977. It would be 17-years before the sport would return to the city at the professional level with the formation of an ECHL team named in honor of the original Charlotte hockey team. The second version of the Checkers would take up residence at the original Coliseum (then known as Independence Arena) and would quickly become a success by winning the Kelly Cup in 1996. The team moved to the Spectrum Center in 2005. In 2010 the Checkers would move to the American Hockey League and become the top affiliate of Raleigh’s National Hockey League team, the Carolina Hurricanes. In 2015 the Checkers moved back to the Coliseum.
Throughout the years Charlotte has been home to a number of soccer teams, and is currently home of the Charlotte Eagles of the Premier Development League, their sister team, the Charlotte Lady Eagles of the USL W-League, and the Charlotte Independence of the United Soccer League. Both Eagles teams have won a number of championships at the lower-levels of American soccer. In 1981 Charlotte’s American Soccer League team, the Carolina Lightnin’, won the league championship before a sold-out Memorial Stadium when they defeated New York United 2–1.
Lacrosse is a sport with a relatively short history in Charlotte but one that is experiencing growth following the formation of two professional lacrosse teams. The Charlotte Hounds are a field lacrosse team that plays in Major League Lacrosse, the top level of the sport in the United States, out of Memorial Stadium. The Hounds began play in 2012 and were founded by Jim McPhilliamy. Charlotte’s other lacrosse team, the Charlotte Copperheads, plays the indoor version of the game, box lacrosse, in the Professional Lacrosse League.
Tennis is played at several venues throughout Charlotte by both individuals and clubs at the recreational and competitive levels. Charlotte’s most prominent tennis venue is the 13-court Jeff Adams Tennis Center at Renaissance Park.
Charlotte is home to one of North Carolina’s oldest rugby union organizations, the Charlotte Rugby Club, or the Olde Originals. CRC was founded in 1971 by former college rugby players and is based at the Skillbeck Athletic Grounds in Coulwood, a neighborhood in the northwestern portion of the city.