Charlotte Hornets: The Hector Cortes Story, becoming “Sombrero Man”

Charlotte Hornets (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)
Charlotte Hornets (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Hector Cortes, a Charlotte Hornets super fan, has made a name for himself at home games thanks to his sombrero and outgoing personality.

Since the return of the Charlotte Hornets, a few different things have become staples of the second generation of the purple and teal. Kemba’s stepback, Black Buzz City jerseys, an Eric Collins “whoopdy do”,  and the “Sombrero Man.”

Hector Cortes, 41, is an engineering and Spanish teacher at York Prep Academy in Rock Hill, S.C. by day, but by night he is best known for as the Charlotte Hornets super fan “Sombrero Man”.

Cortes was born in Mexico but has spent a lot of his life within the United States living in California and Utah before ultimately moving to the Carolinas in 2006 with his wife Bea.

Being the avid sports fan that he is, Cortes began attending Bobcats games as a casual fan shortly after moving. He followed and watched the team closely and can recall the year his fandom began to change.

It was the 2010-2011 season as Cortes and his family were very excited to see the likes of Eduardo Najera, a Mexican basketball player, on his beloved team for the next two seasons. It was around this time that he became a season ticket holder, however “Sombrero Man” was not born until the Hornets name was returned to Charlotte 3 seasons later.

It was a Latino heritage night in what was then Time Warner Cable Arena, a night in which the teams warm ups say “Los Hornets” and the seats are filled with people excited to embrace and celebrate the culture.

On hand for the evening was Cortes, who picked an outfit that was inspired from the Mexican National Soccer Team and its fans.

“While here in the United States there are shirts and pants that are made to look like a flag, in Mexican culture it is much different.” Cortes explained. “It is normal to pick just one solid color from the flag to wear, and that night I picked a green shirt and decided to wear my hat (sombrero).”

Going to the game to simply have a good time and celebrate his culture was the plan, but what happened over the course of that 48 minutes of basketball changed Hector Cortes to “Sombrero Man”.

If most fans are honest with themselves, there is one ultimate goal when attending a sporting event… to get on the jumbotron.

The dance cam during the Latino heritage night celebration was Cortes’ chance to do so and it was then him and his sombrero making its debut in Charlotte. “I guess the crowd just loved it, they cheered loud and it seemed like the camera kept coming back to me throughout the game.” Cortes said.

While it was an exciting evening, he went home and did not think much of his fifteen seconds of fame, until the next game.

“People saw me in the concourse the next game and recognized me with out the hat… these few groups of people told me to bring it back and continue being that outgoing fan, so I did.” Cortes said.

As the character grew, Cortes’ knew he had to step his game up and thought about buying fatheads to bring to games. “I went online and saw the price of $100 and thought I can do this cheaper myself!”

At that time, he asked then Bobcats/Hornets center Al Jefferson if he would like to be the guinea pig of the experiment and pose for his Fathead. “Big Al” agreed to be the very first homemade Fathead, and it came out perfectly.

While many more were made and still make regular appearances at Hornets games, the original has been retired Cortes said with a laugh, “It is upstairs at the house, Big Al autographed it for me and it’s in permanent retirement”.

Cortes has made an impact on more than just the fans, he has made an impact on the players as well, but maybe none bigger than former Hornets guard and Mexican international Jorge Gutierrez.

“It was rumored that the Hornets were going to go after Jorge if the Nets released him. I immediately called my ticket representative and said ‘I know it is just a rumor but if we pick up Jorge you have to arrange a time for me to meet him'”.

Within the next few days, the Charlotte Hornets picked but the veteran point guard and Cortes got his wish and met Gutierrez.

“Honestly, when we first met it was like talking to an old friend. Maybe it is just the Mexican culture, but we spoke in our native language and shortly after exchanged numbers.”

While the two still stay in contact past Gutierrez’s time in the Queen City, it’s not the only player that took notice of the super fan.

Kemba Walker has called him the coolest teacher ever because Cortes will get things autographed for some of his students. Al Jefferson gave him his shoes from the final game Jefferson played in the NBA in Charlotte as a member of the Indiana Pacers during the 2017-18 season.

Cortes still can not quite understand why he has became the icon that he is. “I’ll be just walking around and people ask for photos with me or a local news station will ask for an interview… it is very cool but still a little weird to me.” Cortes said.

He recalls a time during a season ticket holder event in 2015 when former Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin was signing autographs right next to him, and a few children ran up and asked for his autograph instead of Lin’s.

“I couldn’t believe it.” Cortes said. “I said, guys that’s Jeremy Lin! You should be asking for his autograph not mine!”

Cortes signed some autographs for the kids and Lin laughed about it, but that was the moment Sombrero Man realized how big this had become.

Next. Walker and Zeller have a career game vs Warriors. dark

The character has been embraced by the whole Cortes family, and whether that been another voice in the stands, or a helping hand making the custom Fatheads; Hector’s boys Ivan, 11 and Issac, 9, love helping bring a little extra Buzz into Buzz City.

So, the next time you are in Spectrum Center and see Sombrero Man, stop and say hey, but he will be the first to remind you… “I am just a fan with a hat”.