When the reports initially surfaced that the New Orleans Hornets could become the New Orleans Pelicans as early as the 2013-14 season, I felt a good deal of relief. Many people around the Crescent City will tell you that the Hornets is the nickname of a team from Charlotte who moved to New Orleans. As long as that name remained, there would be unavoidable connections to a different city.
So unlike the New Orleans Saints, the Hornets have never really been fully embraced by New Orleans natives since their arrival in 2002. The Pelicans, while not the perfect-world choice for the team (still looking at you, Utah Jazz), is more connected to New Orleans and the state of Louisiana than its predecessor due to the Pelican’s status as the state bird.
Along with the name change, it appears that the team will undergo a full color-scheme makeover as well, with the rumors pointing towards a red, gold and navy blue scheme instead of the old teal and purple. The Hornets tried to market the old colors as distinctly “Louisiana” by renaming the teal “Creole Blue” and things of that nature, but nobody was buying that. A full reboot was necessary if they wanted to get the locals to buy in to the team as their own and new owner Tom Benson knew it.
This will not be the first sports team with the name Pelicans from the New Orleans area, however. The city once had a minor league baseball team with the same name, but they last played under that banner in 1977. Benson, who also owns the Saints, is the holder of the rights to the Pelicans name, making the whole renaming and rebranding process that much easier.
I honestly believed that Benson was going to go with the Voodoo nickname that he also owns from the Arena Football League team that plays in the same building as the Hornets. But it appears that name couldn’t crack the top three ahead of the Pelicans, Brass and Krewe. Regardless, it was apparent when Benson bought the team in April that a name change was coming. And it appears that the organization has made its decision. Pelicans it is.
I am already aware of some of the derision that the decision will meet amongst the media and the general populace, who seem to think that an NBA team should have a vicious or intimidating nickname. But if you can honestly look at the names of all 30 teams in the league and tell me that more than half of them are particularly intimidating, I will gladly point you in the direction of the nearest mental health institute.
Tell me how Pelicans is any less intimidating than “Knickerbockers” or “Lakers” or “Celtics” or “Pistons?” Like all of those names, (considering the original context of the Minneapolis Lakers) the Pelicans would have an actual connection to the host city. Imagine that.
The ridicule surrounding the name change from fans of other teams is hypocritical at best. The big name NBA teams, for the most part, have a name that is in no way intimidating and has more to do with that very connection between team and city. It’s also laughable that people seem to think that intimidation is possible from a team name, as if pro basketball players will be quaking in their boots at the sound of the name “Raptors.” Ridiculous.
But one question is left unanswered here: What becomes of the Hornets name?
During their days in Charlotte, the Hornets were one of the most marketable franchises in the NBA. There’s a lot of history that goes with that name from back in the days of Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning and Glen Rice. Well it appears that current Charlotte Bobcats owner and NBA legend Michael Jordan has opened the door for the name to possibly return to its original home. Were that to happen, I would be happy for Charlotte fans who could wipe last year’s disastrous season off of the slate: “No, no, our team isn’t responsible for the worst season ever. That was the BOBCATS. We’re the Hornets.”
All in all I think the name change is a good sign of things to come for a franchise that flirted with relocation early on in 2012. This, along with Benson’s ownership continues to give a sense of permanency to the future of professional basketball in New Orleans, and that’s a win no matter how you view it.