Bobcats move into new building

Updated: October 25, 2005, 4:53 PM ET
Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Charlotte Bobcats got their first up-close look at the team's new arena. Now, they just have to get used to the nuances of a building that gives fans a literal window into their work.

The glaring sun poured through the wall of windows on one side of their street-level practice court Tuesday while a constant stream of fans pressed against the glass to watch the team's first work out in the downtown arena.

A group of school children ended up with front-row seats to watch Emeka Okafor spend an extra 45 minutes on the court after practice. The kids pushed their noses against the windows, snapped pictures and waved frantically to get Okafor's attention -- to no avail.

So far, the Bobcats, who finished 18-64 in their inaugural season last year, aren't worried opponents will also try to sneak a peek at their practices.

"When we get to that point where they are that concerned about us, that's a good thing," coach Bernie Bickerstaff joked.

The arena officially opened last Friday with a Rolling Stones concert, and the Bobcats used Tuesday to make their move into the building. The first game is scheduled for Nov. 5.

The move gives the team a home base after they spent all of last season playing games in the suburban Charlotte Coliseum and practiced 30 minutes away in a dark, old gym in Fort Mill, S.C.

The dated facilities shocked Okafor, who was used to first-class amenities while playing college ball at Connecticut.

"My college locker room was 10 times better than the pro one (at the Coliseum)," he said. "I was like `Damn, what's going on here? This was supposed to be a step up.' "

The Bobcats never attempted to settle into the Coliseum, the home of the Hornets before they moved to New Orleans. The biggest update was a coat of orange paint on top of the purple and teal the Hornets had used in the corridors. But they never even hung nameplates over the Bobcats' lockers and everything always had a temporary feel.

Everything is permanent now, with updated locker rooms and a lounge for players. The players will also eventually have total access and the ability to pop in for late-night workouts.

The Bobcats play one final preseason game in the Coliseum on Wednesday night and will never have to go back again.

"I am ready to get out of there," guard Brevin Knight said. "We don't have any feel of home in there. This is now our home and it feels great."

Bickerstaff said it will take time for everyone to learn the shortcuts both inside and outside of the building.

"The walk to the locker room took me longer than the drive here," Okafor joked.

The Bobcats are the first sports team to operate in the heart of Charlotte's downtown. The NFL's Carolina Panthers are also in the city, but their stadium is isolated from foot traffic.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press