The Charlotte Hornets have a relatively modest amount of accomplishments in their thirty-year history. One of those is a bit surprising and came about in a fairly odd manner.
When you think about some of the NBA All-Star Game’s greatest players, you obviously think of players like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, and more recently, LeBron James. Yet, it was a member of the Charlotte Hornets that took the 1997 edition by storm.
Glen Rice may not be a lot of people’s favorite Charlotte Hornet. He was a great player and may end up being inducted into the Hall of Fame one day, but in terms of Charlotte fandom, he’ll almost never be up there with names like Kemba Walker, Muggsy Bogues, or even Gerald Wallace.
Part of that is simply due to coming to the Hornets via trade rather than being drafted. Another reason may be his rather short tenure with the team, playing just three seasons in Charlotte. Yet, during those years, he may have had the best three-year span of any Hornet ever, averaging nearly 24 points a game while shooting 48% from the field and 44% from three.
Glen Rice was a great forward and one of the best of his day, but on a team with multiple Hall of Fame players, him winning MVP was highly improbable.
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On top of that, he made the All-Star Game every year he was in the Queen City, and those three appearances would be the only ones in a pretty stellar career. So, while he may not be anyone’s go-to favorite Hornet, there’s no denying he’s one of the greatest ever to lace them up in a Charlotte uniform.
In fact, he’s done something no other Hornet has ever done and he did so at a time when possibly the greatest player of all-time was in peak form. That feat, of course, being named the All-Star Game MVP.
The 1997 NBA All-Star Game was filled with legendary players, as was the case in the 1990s. Nearly every starter for both the East and the West would go on to be named to the NBA Hall of Fame. That should tell you how stacked this group of players was.
As for Rice, he came into this having shown up the prior season, so he wasn’t totally new to all of it. He was, however, the player with the fewest votes to get into the game, nabbing just under 200,000. Tom Gugliotta had more votes. No offense to Tom, but let that sink in.
So, fans weren’t expecting much out of Rice, given his rather small role on the team. I mean, why would you? You have the likes of Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Anfernee Hardaway, and Grant Hill, all in peak condition. In fact, Jordan was the reigning All-Star MVP and many expected him to take home that honor again.
Jordan played well, too… like really well, putting up the All-Star Game’s first-ever triple-double, a feat which has been accomplished by just three other players since then. It would take Rice setting his own pair of records to keep M.J. from getting another piece of hardware.
He would score 20 points in the third quarter, which broke the previous record of 19. His 24 points in the second half also set a new record for points in a half. All in all, Rice ended the night with 26 points on 42% shooting while draining 57% of his shots from behind the line.
He would make 4 of 7 from deep, which seems rather paltry by today’s standards, especially in the All-Star game where defense is very much optional now. At the time, however, that was seen as a feat of its own.
Going into halftime, the East was up 57-50, but they would put it away in the third, due mostly to Rice’s 20, outscoring the talented West squad 40-27. The West would try to come back, scoring 33 in the fourth, but the lead Rice helped build was too much.
All this from a guy who was pretty much an afterthought coming into that game. He had the lowest amount of votes, was playing behind literal Hall of Famers, including the G.O.A.T, and was on a team that, outside of the Southeastern United States, was often overlooked in the NBA’s bigger picture.
If there’s a more fitting story for the Charlotte Hornets, I don’t know what is. Glen Rice might not have been a household name at the time, despite obviously being one of the best players in the league. Yet, he came out and showed that just because you don’t play for a large market or for a team destined to win a title, doesn’t mean you don’t belong with the big boys.
Will the Charlotte Hornets ever have another All-Star Game MVP? Could one of our current guys reach that level? Only time will tell, but fans of the team can hang their hats on the fact that they have at least one such player to accomplish such a feat.