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Dallas Mavericks v Charlotte Hornets

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For the first time in years, there truly is a buzz (pardon the pun) surrounding the Charlotte Hornets.

Perhaps the last time interest and excitement surrounded them at the same level was when the team reclaimed its rightful name of the Hornets and got rid of that dreadful Bobcats moniker going back to the purple and teal in the early 2010s.

In fact, the Hornets just broke a team online sales record for merchandise sold during the first two months of the season, according to the Charlotte Business Journal.

But unlike then, fans can’t express their support in person, instead being only allowed to watch the games on TV or listen on WFNZ radio because in North Carolina, gatherings at events are prohibited due to COVID-19.

However, that might change in a couple of months and fans could actually be allowed to cheer on their favorite Hornet at Spectrum Center.

“Our attendance is actually dictated by our Governor’s office and our County Manager’s office, and we’re certainly fortunate enough to work very closely with both on how and when it will be a right time and a safe time for us to host fans in our arena,” team President and Vice Chairman Fred Whitfield told WFNZ on Tuesday. “We are optimistic and hopeful that by the time the second half of our schedule is released that we’ll start to turn the corner and our numbers will go down, but I think all of it’s going to be dictated by where the pandemic is.”

The person outside of Gov. Roy Cooper that will have the greatest influence in determining if-and-when the Hornets can have fans again in Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris. It was she that gave guidance to the Carolina Panthers, which led to them allowing 5,240 fans being in attendance at Bank of America Stadium.

When asked specifically about the Hornets and fans Tuesday afternoon by WBT, Harris said the situation is fluid but that her office and the team are having regular talks about that possibility.

“I think we all have hope right now that things are going to improve as we move into the early spring and into the summer,” she said. “I would love to see fans in the arena for those games. I would love to see our kids back in school and I hope to see sports back up and running, as I know many of our parents and students would love to see, as well as just individuals who love to watch sports.”

“The word here is, ‘hope.’ But it’s also prevention and we need people to do the things that are going to help us get to those places.”

As of Tuesday, the positivity rate in Mecklenburg County is 14.5%, which is down from where it’s been over the last few weeks. Back in early September, the local positivity rate was near the magical 5% mark.

“That’s what we’d like to see (from a positivity rate),” Harris said. “Whether we would consider it sooner than that will just depend on the situation in the county and numbers that they’re talking about – sometimes they’re just talking about family members attending games. We’ll just have to have those conversations as we move forward.

“The lower numbers we were seeing back in the fall did make a difference in terms of the work that we did with the Panthers and we would do the same thing with the Hornets.”

And when the time finally comes that fans can yell, drink beer, eat a hotdog and applaud, Whitfield said the arena and organization will be ready.

“One of the things we’ve done is be very proactive in making sure that when the right time comes we put in all of the safety health conditions and measures to make sure our fans will feel like they’re coming into a safe environment once the numbers get where they need to be with the pandemic and we’re allowed to host fans.”