Matt Rochinski and Sam Perley of hornets.com will be following the Hornets throughout the 2017 NBA offseason and keeping fans up to date through the Buzz Words | Hornets Notebook. Keep checking back to see what the latest is as the season unfolds.
By Sam Perley, hornets.com
While the welcomed return of Head Coach Steve Clifford was the big news within the Hornets organization on Friday morning, today also marks another significant date for the franchise with the 18th anniversary of Bobby Phills’ passing.
Phills, a nine-year NBA veteran who spent his final three seasons with the Hornets, was tragically killed in a car accident at age 30 after practice on Jan. 12, 2000. Although it’s undoubtedly one of the darkest days in Charlotte basketball history, Phills’ impact as a player and person still lives on today.
“It was a sad day, a really, really rough day,” said Associate Head Coach Stephen Silas, who worked as a scout for the Hornets the season Phills passed. “I had just come in from a scouting assignment, got to the arena and passed the accident on Tyvola Road. For us to kind of pick up and get back to the season, it was really hard to do because of the guy that he was and the contributor to the community [he was].”
Originally a second-round pick out of Southern University in 1991, Phills spent six years with the Cleveland Cavaliers and built a reputation as a hard-nosed, “three-and-D-style” of player. He helped lead the Hornets to a 51-31 record and a first-round playoff series win in his debut season with the team in 1997-98.
“Bobby was the team leader and he was the heart and soul of the team,” Silas added. “[He was] very much in the way Marvin Williams is for this team. He was very much the guy who didn’t make any mistakes, the guy that people leaned on, the guy who everybody wanted to be around.”
Phills’ #13 jersey was retired by the Hornets on Feb. 9, 2000 and eventually moved with the franchise following its relocation to New Orleans a few years later. When the Hornets name returned to Charlotte at the start of 2014-15 season, Phills’ jersey came back as well. To this day, it’s still the only number retired in the organization’s history.
It’s been almost two decades since his passing, but Phills’ memory still resonates through people like Silas and others who knew him well. His life was unexpectedly cut way too short, but his legacy on the Charlotte Hornets franchise will never be forgotten.