Glen Rice and the Charlotte Hornets Crossed Paths at the Perfect Time
By Sam Perley
Glen Rice was only with the Charlotte Hornets for three seasons, but that stretch from 1995-98 is arguably the best by an individual player or the team for that matter, in franchise history. In hindsight, the two sides were a near-perfect match from the start.
Rice was acquired by the franchise in November of 1995 as part of a five-player blockbuster deal that sent Alonzo Mourning to Miami. Even before arriving in the Queen City, Rice (who refers to himself as a “Southern Boy at heart” despite his Michigan roots) already had an infatuation with the franchise and the cultural impact it was making across the league.
“I used to watch Alonzo, Larry, Muggsy and them out there playing. I was in love with how the uniforms looked, the color and I think the whole NBA was,” said Rice in an interview with Hornets.com. “When I first got here, the overwhelming southern hospitality was unbelievable. I fell in love again. I felt like I was home. That’s what made it feel easy for me to get comfortable, fit in with the guys and be able to perform to the best of my ability. I realized that I had to follow in some big footsteps, so I needed to get busy quick.”
And get busy quickly he did as Rice averaged 21.6 PPG, 4.8 RPG and a personal-high 2.9 APG his first year with the team, which also included the first of three consecutive All-Star Game nominations. The Hornets went just 41-41 though, falling short of the playoffs and eventually leading to a buyout of Head Coach Alan Bristow’s contract.
Now under the helm of Dave Cowens, the Hornets won a still-standing franchise-record 54 games the following year thanks largely to the complimentary play of Rice, newcomers Anthony Mason and Vlade Divac, Dell Curry, Muggsy Bogues and others. Rice set organizational single-season records in scoring (26.8 PPG), three-pointers (207) and three-point percentage (47.0 percent), vaulting him onto the All-NBA Second Team and to fifth place in both NBA MVP and Most Improved Player Award voting.
“He was 6-8 and could shoot the lights out,” said Curry, who played with Rice from 1995-98. “He extended his arms on his shot so much that you could not block it. He could put it on the floor, he could post up with his back to the basket, take smaller guys to the post. He was a fun guy to play with because you knew he prepared himself. He could go off at a moment’s notice.”
Bogues added, “Glen was always there shooting the lights out. Playing with him was just an unbelievable feeling knowing that any time he got that ball up, you were getting an assist. He got at least a thousand of my assists.”
Undoubtedly though, the crowning singular achievement by any Charlotte Hornet ever took place in February of 1997, when Rice became the first and still only player in franchise history to win the NBA All-Star Game MVP Award. Rice finished with a game-high 26 points off the bench in a 132-120 Eastern Conference victory, which came at a time when the league’s marquee midseason event was taken far more seriously from a playing standpoint than it is today.
“Just as an individual player, it was great, but then to be able to hoist that trophy and know that I was representing the Hornets was an even bigger deal,” said Rice. “I knew how much the Hornets meant for me and what they had done for me.
Despite those aforementioned 54 wins though, the Hornets were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the New York Knicks in what was an extremely, competitive top-heavy Eastern Conference (54 wins earned Charlotte just the sixth seed).
Rice averaged another 22.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists over all 82 games the following season, this time landing him on the All-NBA Third Team. The Hornets’ win total dipped down to 51, although they still claimed home-court advantage as the four seed. After beating Atlanta in the opening round, Charlotte advanced to the Conference Semifinals for the first time since 1993 before falling to the eventual NBA Champion Chicago Bulls in five games.
The 1998-99 NBA season started late because of the lockout and Rice was still unavailable when Opening Day did roll around after having a bone chip removed from his shooting elbow one month earlier. Rice never appeared in another game for the Hornets as he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in March of 1999 as part of a deal that packaged Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell back to Charlotte.
He won his only NBA Championship ring with the Lakers in 2000 and after that, played four more seasons with the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers before retiring because of a knee injury.
Having played for six total NBA teams, Rice, for the most part, is generally remembered as a Hornet. All his noteworthy individual accolades occurred while wearing the iconic purple and teal and Charlotte was where he experienced the most team success as the go-to guy, as well.
“When you look over my career, [Charlotte] was probably one of the best times that I had. [Being] a three-time All-Star, a lot of that had to do with the guys that I was playing for, the coaches that I was playing for and also the fans that cheered us on,” stated Rice. “We went out there and laid it on the line for the fans here and they laid it on the line for us night in and night out, even when we weren’t playing well. They gave us that extra energy and propelled us through the game.”
During a sit-down interview back in November, Rice also reflected on being honored by the organization at halftime on Saturday, Jan. 19 when the Hornets host the visiting Phoenix Suns.
“It’s going to be an emotional night for me because I understand what the Hornets organization and playing for the Hornets, meant for me. It was an unbelievable run for me and for them to honor me, I mean, it’s basically like a Glen Rice Day. That’s huge. If I had to really put a finger on it and say it for every guy in the league, everyone probably would want that day for themselves, because it just shows the type of character that you are and how they believed in you.”
Considering the two different eras and positions, Glen Rice and Kemba Walker have easily distinguished themselves as the two best offensive players in franchise history.
“Glen was just a driven scorer. It was just fun to watch him work and fun to watch Anthony Mason work alongside him,” said longtime, legendary Hornets broadcaster Steve Martin. “Rice scored in a way and a clip [that] not even Russell Westbrook was scoring. We caught Glen Rice at the peak of his career.”
Martin also laughingly referenced a common occurrence on the team bus after road outings in which Rice would regularly call home to go over away games with his wife.
“Rice would sit behind us on the bus and his wife at the time would call him after every game. She was his harshest critic. There would be nights he’d score 35 and you’d only hear one half of the conversation – ‘He didn’t pass it to me then!’ So, he was driven by a force at home that we were probably not very well aware of.”
With what he’s achieved over the course of his decorated basketball career – particularly in Charlotte – Glen Rice is more than deserving of any and all recognition coming his way from the franchise. Looking at the heights each reached during those three marvelous seasons, both the Hornets and Rice seemingly found each other at the perfect moment.
“I like to tell everybody it was a blessing in disguise,” Rice said. “I didn’t know what to think coming here at the very beginning. Once we got going, it was a turnaround point for me as an individual – person and player. To this day, I’m very grateful and thankful for everything the Hornets have done for me.