If hard times build enough character to win championships, then the New Orleans Pelicans should start dusting off a spot to place a National Basketball Association trophy. By the time the former Charlotte Hornets relocated here in 2002, the franchise had already faced a stormy controversy over an inadequate facility in its hometown and a citizenry reluctant to pay for another one. New Orleans had an arena ready to be used – though its fan base was questionable – then came Hurricane Katrina and the franchise was relocated to Oklahoma City for two years.
There were pouty players, such as the ornery Baron Davis and the once-popular Chris Paul. There were the constant rumors of the franchise being re-located and then there was the team’s founder/owner George Shinn who bailed out financially.
New Orleans would have lost its second NBA franchise (the first was the Jazz) had it not been for Commissioner David Stern, who somehow believed in the city, even having awarded it two all-star games, and, most importantly, was able to convince Tom Benson to buy the franchise.
Now what once was the NBA’s most troubled franchise is among the most stable, though it still has to prove its sustainability with ticket sales. Helping with that are the prospects that the team, now renamed the Pelicans, is considered to be a contender for the playoffs. Because its average player age is the youngest in the NBA the team can conceivably be a front-runner for several years, plus there’s Anthony Davis, a former all-everything college player who could very well be the game’s next superstar.
Playing in a division once dominated by the Los Angeles Lakers and where the San Antonio Spurs have frequently ruled, the possibilities of the Pelicans becoming the team of the future are nevertheless plausible for any Saints fan who remembers the shift from perennial loser to champions. Granted the National Football League is structured so that there is more parity among teams than in the other professional leagues, but in the NBA, a few right moves can make a difference. One such move was the building of a new practice facility. For the first time since coming to New Orleans the team has its own modern place to practice. That could be a deal maker when trying to sign key players.
A pelican, as a mascot, has been a part of the city’s sport history. It was the name of the city’s early Southern League baseball franchise, which lasted until 1959. In its early years the team was a farm club for the Yankees who played exhibition games here, and its must famous alumni included Shoeless Joe Jackson, who made it to the big leagues but in 1919 was tossed from the game because of the Black Sox gambling scandals.
In 1977 the name appeared again for one year on the jerseys of a Triple-A baseball team that learned that renting the Superdome was too much of an expense for minor league baseball.
Now the name is not only applied to a big league basketball team but also it has taken on extra significance. More than the state bird, the pelican has become a symbol of wetland conservation and survival. When pelicans glide over waterways, it’s a good sign because that means there are plenty fish. We are blessed with the spectacle of Pelicans eyeing not only lakes, but Lakers as well.