The Bobcats name is dead. It was a shrine to Robert Johnson’s hubris and never befitting this great basketball city. It was a banner that was trotted out in front of years of building, rebuilding, and hope-crushing postseason futility. The name change may not fix those problems, but it will be easier to be proud of our Hornets apparel after getting swept by the Heat than it was wearing the forced orange moniker of an egotist. The Bobcats name is mercifully and thankfully dead. However, there is an aspect of the second Charlotte NBA team which will be missed; Rufus Lynx, the finest of mascots since Hugo.
The once and future Charlotte mascot, Hugo, was as good as it gets. He had quality merchandising, a compelling persona, major role in the team logo, and even a special appearance in NBA Jam for the 16-bit game systems. Coming into the 2004 season, the new mascot would have big, hive-patterned shoes to fill. Rufus filled them admirably. And it all started with a name.
Rufus Lynx is, of course, a reordered version of the scientific name for the Bobcat. It seems like a simple, boring choice, but it really set a great tone. Rufus is at once lovable and powerful. It sounds like the name of a party DJ just as much as it does a big teddy bear. It’s a fun play on the Bobcat name and it inspired the most admirable pun, “Rufus on Fire,” for the SBNation blog. Rufus was chosen with the help of a fan vote in 2002. The other options were pretty terrible; Scratch, Fang, Cool, Al E. Cat, and Other. Obviously, the hope was to match the Bobcat mascot with the other wondrously named pro mascot in Charlotte; the singular, Sir Purr. In Rufus, they accomplished this task.
However, unlike Sir Purr, Rufus was an athlete. Sir Purr (whose name I will type as many times as I can make work) is a lumpy, hilarious mascot who requires size 5XL shirts and is often pantless. He is fun, but a bit goofy. Sir Purr is not somebody you’d ever want on your sports team. Rufus, on the other hand, is an agile orange cat who could beat any NBA mascot in a game of one-on-one anytime; I’m including the Suns Gorilla in that statement. On a given night one could see Rufus flying through the air on his way to a monster jam, dancing his heart out with the kids, or simply styling it up like nobody’s business.
Because Rufus was fit, he could wear whatever the occasion called for and wear it well. The cat knew how to dress. His costumes gave fresh life to the Bobcat persona every night. Michael Jordan was once the best dressed in TWC arena on a regular basis. My theory is that after seeing Rufus in a suit, MJ gave up on that effort and moved into his Hanes t-shirts. Rufus carried the style. Rufus looked great.
Granted, that was not always the case. Any retrospective would be dishonest to not mention the overlooked and forgotten terror of a certain early Rufus costume. Twitter had a lot of fun pointing out the horrors of Pierre the Pelican. Had Twitter been a thing in 2004, the below photo would have made some serious rounds in the world of joke formats. He may have even been linked to Benghazi itself. Rightly so.
He didn’t stay that way. Rufus was a cat of adaptation. He fixed the look. He put on shades. He got in shape, and he became a beloved member of the city. Nobody liked the Bobcats name, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a child or adult who didn’t smile at the mention of Rufus. With Hugo being reborn, Charlotteans look forward to a new era of buzzing and odd-bodied enjoyment from the teal wasp. Yet, we can only hope that Rufus will be able to adapt once again. Maybe he will be repurposed as a companion mascot to Hugo and Sir Purr. Maybe he can help drum up support for city attractions like the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It remains to be seen whether he will fall into throwback class obscurity like the bobcat orange that covers him. As a strong supporter of Hornets basketball, I am confident that Rufus will remain a part of the Charlotte sports zeitgeist; even if just in our hearts.
Thanks, Rufus. We hardly knew you.