Professional Basketball’s History in New Orleans
From Hurricanes to Pelicans
Austin “Red” Robbins of the American Basketball Association New Orleans Buccaneers shooting against Jim Eakins of the Washington Caps, c. 1970; the Buccanneers played at the Loyola Field House. Photograph by Roy M. Blaum of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, provided courtesy of the New Orleans Public Library.
Professional basketball first came to New Orleans in 1947 with the brand new Professional Basketball League of America. The Hurricanes played only eight games (going 3-5), as the league wasn’t able to sustain itself for even one complete season.
The following year brought the Sports, an expansion franchise from the year-old Southern Basketball League. Their 1948 (and only) season was not a great one, ending with a 7-24 record. The league disbanded that year.
New Orleans didn’t have another pro team until 1967’s American Basketball Association’s Buccaneers. The first winning major professional team of any sport in the history of the city, the Buccaneers played in the ABA championship game their first year and made it to the second round of the playoffs their second. After a less successful third year, they moved to Memphis in ’70.
Four years later, the Jazz came to New Orleans courtesy of the NBA. For their inaugural season in 1974, the Jazz played in the Municipal Auditorium and then moved over to the brand new Superdome for their remaining four seasons. Although the Jazz had superstar (and former Louisiana State University) player Pete Maravich, during their time in New Orleans they were one of the worst teams in the NBA. In ’79, they relocated to Utah.
However, New Orleans wasn’t left without a professional team. The Women’s Professional Basketball League brought the Pride in 1979, who played for two years until the league folded in ’81.
Twenty years later in 2002, the NBA’s Hornets came to New Orleans, lured by the newly built Arena. A solid team over the years, they’re undergoing a name change. Next season, you can start cheering for the Pelicans, a name chosen for its meaningful connection to the city and state, and especially the coastal wetlands, the restoration of which will be a major part of the team’s philanthropic efforts.