At approximately 3:00 PM CST today, the team that was born the Charlotte Hornets in 1988 officially became the New Orleans Pelicans. When he purchased the team back in April, owner Tom Benson had made his intentions clear to change the Hornets moniker to one he felt more appropriately tied into the region’s history and identity. In adopting the official state mascot, the brown pelican, as the team’s mascot, he did that. The team will adopt the new name, team colors and uniforms starting with the 2013-14 season, during which New Orleans will host the 2014 NBA All-Star Game.
The news didn’t come as a surprise to anyone as the Pelicans moniker had been floated long ago and had, in fact, been reported as one of the five finalists when the process was sped up – along with Mosquitoes, Swamp Dogs, Bull Sharks and the fabled Rougarou. If the decision was not a surprise, neither then was the lack of outrage since all of the shock and disappointment had been burnt away when Pelicans had been first suggested. The announcement of the press conference seemed only to cement the formality of the change.
In place of outrage, what you found were two separate emotions, distinguished by a difference in geography. For many in the local area, they found themselves liking the new logo and color scheme and thinking that they would come to love the new name. Meanwhile the national media and folks outside New Orleans took turns mocking it. Apparently, Pelicans isn’t fierce or it’s not good enough. Odd when you consider it against names like Lakers, Heat, Thunder or Wizards.
To me, the news is good. This NBA franchise moved out of Charlotte a decade ago and is still referred to as the “Charlotte Hornets” from time to time by national media. The imprint of those late 80s-early 90s Hornets – Muggsy Bogues, Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson/Gran’mamma – is so indelible that it cannot be removed, no matter how hard you try. It’s no surprise that people find themselves having difficulties in putting “New Orleans” and “Hornets” together – even though the team has been here for that long a time and has made the playoffs. Certainly the move to Oklahoma City due to Katrina didn’t help. But we are talking about a franchise that’s had talent, opportunity and yet isn’t thought of as a part of New Orleans. This name change allows for a clean break from all that.
Most importantly, this name change gives people who have yet to jump into the New Orleans NBA bandwagon a clean starting point in which to join. The team is young and working through its growing pains. But with a core of Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers, it won’t be long before this team is a contender. We’ve seen how the city and the region respond to teams on the upswing – just think back to how the Chris Paul/David West teams of a few years back were drawing crowds. The arm’s length emotional distance that so many kept though because this wasn’t “New Orleans’ team” can be eliminated by this action. This isn’t “that team”. This is “my/our team.”