NEW ORLEANS — For years, the drum beat for New Orleans’ basketball team to get a new nickname was audible enough that you had to at least think about.
But with George Shinn, and then the NBA, owning the Hornets, there was little chance for any rebranding, any reboot for a franchise that already had relocated once in its history.
When Tom Benson took control of the franchise, though, that opportunity came.
And Thursday he took advantage, unveiling one of the most local of choices.
The Hornets have become the Pelicans and as such, have tied the basketball team to the area like it should be.
“Well the Hornets name was brought here from Charlotte and I guess that is where it belongs, but it doesn’t mean anything here,” Benson said. “So, I think it’s very important that we got something like the Pelican that represents New Orleans and Louisiana.”
It’s not the Jazz, but it’s the next best thing.
The Pelican is tied to New Orleans and Louisiana like few other animals (looking at you, nutria). You see them flying around the endless bayous and the coast and the lakes that surround the region.
It’s a bird emblematic of the city itself.
As put forth by the franchise itself in literature handed out during an extravagant unveiling ceremony at the New Orleans Arena, a building that now will become the Nest, the pelican was placed on the endangered species list in the 1960. In 2009, it was stricken from that list, having come back from near extinction to healthy numbers.
New Orleans was left for dead after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Seven-and-a-half years later, the city is on its way to being as good as it ever has been, having hosted two BCS championship games, a Final Four and, as of next Sunday, a Super Bowl. The charter school network is succeeding and corruption is being ferreted out. Roads are being paved, the streetcar line is being expanded and people are pouring into the city like never before.
There was thought, in other words, about the name. In the face of blowback – for the past two months, since the nickname was leaked, Twitter hasn’t been overly kind to it - the franchise’s leaders stood strong with it.
“It reflects the team and city from a tradition standpoint,” team president Dennis Lauscha said. “Passion, teamwork, resiliency, resourcefulness, loyalty, pride, precision, grace, family, dignity, grandeur and charity - I think these speak well for our city, and I think they will speak well for our team.”
Much of the hesitation from fans seems to be about the ferocity of the Pelican.
Why should that matter? Are Dolphins ferocious? When’s the last time a Cardinal scared the bejeezus out of you? And then there’s the Banana Slugs of UC-Santa Cruz.
So, yeah, Pelicans is fine. It’s actually better than fine.
It’s more than a name, though. The team is committed to helping educate the public, both local and beyond, about coastal restoration and a fight bigger anything the team will face on the court.
“We are in one of the biggest crisis in our history right now, losing the coast of Louisiana, losing the coast of the Gulf of Mexico,” said Ron Forman, president and CEO of the Audubon Nature Institute. “If we don’t turn that around, the city we know today won’t be the city for our grandkids. It won’t be the city for all of our kids. (It would be) completely changed.”
So, give it time. Let the Pelicans grow on you.
And as the franchise’s motto has been for the past two years, you’ll likely soon be saying, “I’m in.”