Big Al Named 10th on All-Time Hornets List
As he begins a new chapter of his basketball career in China, Al Jefferson was recently recognized for his contributions in the NBA back during his time in Charlotte.
As part of the 30th anniversary of the franchise, the Charlotte Hornets are counting down the top 10 players in the franchise’s history, and they selected Al to start the list at No. 10.
Big Al played a pivotal role in the resurgence of the franchise as they ushered in a new era of Hornets basketball. Over three seasons in Charlotte, he played in 185 games, starting 152 of them and averaged 17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per contest. The team went 96-79 in games No. 25 played over that span, and made two postseason appearances, in 2014 and 2016.
After three seasons in Utah that saw him become one of the league’s most dangerous post players, Big Al signed a three-year contract with the Charlotte franchise, then known as the Bobcats, in the summer of 2013. His acquisition was the first major free agent splash in some time for a squad that had won 28 games combined over the previous two seasons. It pointed Charlotte in a new direction.
Al accepted the challenge and wasted no time proving it was the right move and he was worth it. He immediately went to work helping make the team into a contender alongside young guard Kemba Walker, who was coming off a strong sophomore campaign. Charlotte utilized his veteran leadership and fluid post game along with Walker’s youthful exuberance and strong perimeter to spark a resurgance for the Bobcats as, just two years removed from a league record worst 7-59 season, the franchise was playoff bound with a 43-39 record.
Jefferson was dominant during that first season in Charlotte, averaging 21.9 points while shooting over 50 percent from the floor, and Big Al averaged 10.8 rebounds over his 73 outings that year, giving him a double-double average for the fourth time in his career.
Though he was conspicuously absent from the All-Star team, Al’s performance didn’t go unnoticed by the league, as they caught as the season wound down. He was named Player of the Month in both March and April of 2014, and at season’s end, he earned All-NBA third team honors, becoming the first Charlotte’s first All-NBA player since Eddie Jones in 2000.
Unfortunately, the Bobcats were bounced from the playoffs by a Miami team that went on to win the NBA title. That following summer, Charlotte rebranded the franchise as the Hornets, re-adopting the named first used by the franchise now known as the New Orleans Pelicans from 1988-2002 in Charlotte and used for 11 years in New Orleans before it was awarded back to Charlotte.
Big Al was one of the faces of the franchise while Charlotte ushered in a new culture and a return to the Hornets nickname. Being able to be a part of a rebuild like he was in Charlotte was special for him, and it was one of the main reasons he decided to come to Charlotte in the first place.
“It means a lot. I’ve seen a lot since I’ve been here,” he said in 2016. “One of the reasons I signed was because I knew the type of player Kemba [Walker] could be and the pieces that they had here. To see these boys grow and to see this team grow, to see all that happen from when I first got here, it’s one of the highlights of my career – I know that. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
The rebrand invigorated the fan base, but they suffered through a tough first season back as the Hornets, taking a sate back from their 2013-14 success in large part due to injuries. Even Al couldn’t avoid the bug, as various maladies cost him 17 games over the course of the season. But he fought through to average 16.6 points and 8.4 boards per game in his second season in Charlotte.
His final season in Charlotte saw Al again fall victim to the injury bug, his season nearly cut in half by an injury that kept him inactive for all of January and most of February. However, he returned late in the season to help push the Hornets back to the playoffs. They once again took on the Miami Heat and this time pushed to seven games in the first round.
Those three first-round wins marked the first playoff wins for the franchise since the NBA returned to Charlotte in 2004, a big step in the right direction for the Hornets.
Al departed Charlotte after that season, signing with the Indiana Pacers. However, he still holds a special place in the hearts and minds of Hornets fans, as well as in the team’s record books. He currently ranks sixth on the franchise’s all-time rebounds per game leaderboard, eighth in points per game and first in career defensive rebounding percentage at 26.6 percent.
As Big Al finishes his basketball career overseas with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association, his legacy in the NBA continues to live on, and his impact on Charlotte will always be remembered.