Hornets Open Spectrum Center Doors to 500 Novant Healthcare Workers

by Matt Rochinski

Hornets Welcome Healtcare Heroes Gallery

It was great to see you Hornets fans. Welcome back!

Spectrum Center opened its doors for live basketball with fans in the stands for the first time since the NBA had to shut down a calendar year ago, welcoming 500 healthcare workers from our partners at Novant Health in to see the Hornets beat the Pistons, 105-102, on March 11. 

Looking back, it’s hard to put into words how much we’ve missed all of our fans over the last year. We’ve been on this journey together though, even when we were apart. 

We missed seeing you lining up outside the doors in your Hornets gear as the Spectrum Center Wow Staff welcomes you in with an energy only as palpable as our most passionate fans. We missed seeing the smiles on the faces of a young family decked out in LaMelo Ball jerseys, getting their first chance to see this special rookie in person for the first time. We missed that first cheer that went up when Cody Zeller scored the game’s first basket against Detroit and hearing that excitement build around the arena with each Hornets bucket leading up to Terry Rozier’s impressive fourth quarter performance. We missed Jacinda and Fly Ty’s enthusiasm for everything Hornets as they engage with our fans during a game and make them feel like they’re part of the action. 

That’s because they are. Our fans, and more specifically, every healthcare worker, whether they were able to attend the game or not, were truly the focus when the doors opened at Spectrum Center.  

“Tonight is a big night for us and for our community having 500 Novant Health workers in our building,” Hornets Head Coach James Borrego said pregame. “More than anything, I think that’s indicative of what we are doing here. We know there is a pandemic going on and they’re the ones keeping us safe. They’re the ones that deserve a ton of credit. They’re not the ones in the headlines. They’re not the ones in the press. We’re playing a game right here and it’s a special night to honor them. Even the ones that are not here, we honor you. We’re thankful for what you’ve done for our community, keeping us safe and keeping us healthy as we battle this virus. I know our players are thrilled. Hopefully those 500 healthcare workers are going to enjoy the game and we put on a great show for them. They’re the true heroes.”

Dr. Jerome Williams Jr., Novant Health Senior Vice President of Consumer Engagement, echoed Borrego’s sentiments and knew this was a great opportunity for many of these healthcare workers to get a break, if even for a moment, and take in game with their families and loved ones.

“They are so deserving - 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 365 days a year - our mission is to improve the health of communities one person at a time,” Williams said of Novant Health’s employees. “There’s no time limit on it. This is what we do and what we have been charged to do, so all of our healthcare workers are deserving of this night.”

The night was also a true testament of the work it took from all parties to get to the point where Spectrum Center’s doors would open again.

“It’s great to have our fans back,” said Hornets President & Vice Chairman Fred Whitfield. “It’s been great working with the Governor’s Office and County Manager’s Office to figure out how many people we could host safely in the building. It’s been a complete team effort. I know our team was excited to have fans back. They’ve played on the road in buildings with fans, and we’ve heard from coach and the players how excited it made them that we would have fans back.

“I applaud our senior leadership team and everyone in our organization for really being focused for a year to get ready for tonight so that we would be prepared. I applaud our owner (Michael Jordan) for not laying off any of our teammates, not furloughing anybody and not cutting anybody’s salary, and just encouraging everyone to put their heads down and get prepared for tonight so when we can get fans back in the building, we can do it in a safe way and be able to support our team.”

Hornets players took note of that as well and could not hold back their enthusiasm for seeing fans again.

It felt good to look up and see some people in the stands, I’m not going to lie, especially on our home court” Rozier said. “Just to look up and see these fans in the stands. We all appreciate them. Welcome back!”

Added Gordon Hayward, “It was great to have people in the stands. “We’re really thankful for the healthcare workers and what they have done through this global pandemic, keeping everyone safe, putting their lives on the line and their safety at risk. We’re extremely thankful for them and glad they were able to come to the game – glad we were able to get a win for them.”

The excitement for the return of fans also serves as a great reminder that we are celebrating a return to normalcy of sorts while also not neglecting to think of everything it took for us all to get here and the work that still lies ahead. 

 “We never imagined anything like this and the stress (of the pandemic) has been quite overwhelming. But, you know, we're finally seeing a little light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dr. Yvette Rudisel, a physician for Novant Health. “We're happy about that. But I do want to make sure as we celebrate coming to the end or seeing a little light as we begin to reintegrate into society, that we honor the over 500,000 people who've lost their lives. We have to remember that their families are still grieving. And as we celebrate, we have to make sure that we remember them. That's always in the forefront, and as we move forward, we just want to make sure that they know that they won't be forgotten.” 

None of us will forget. We know the pandemic has taken a toll on everyone. But for one night, the Hornets gave 500 Novant Health employees the chance to get lost in basketball for a couple hours again. We haven’t healed, but we are all healing, and it was great to be able to continue that process together again with our fans. 

“It’s exciting to host these 500 healthcare workers and thank them for all of their hard work on the front lines during the  last year,” Whitfield reiterated. “Then, we will look forward to Saturday night when we have 3,000 fans here and are sold out to our capacity of 15%. We’re going to have a lot of energy in here.”

It’s been a long time coming. A year to be exact. But the light is looking a little brighter for all of us. 

Thank you again healthcare workers for everything you have done to help get us here.



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