There is some irony that the New Orleans Pelicans will play their first regular season home game Oct. 23 against, of all teams, the Utah Jazz. This is the franchise that was founded in New Orleans in 1974 during the euphoria of the then new Superdome, and then unceremoniously yanked and sent to Salt Lake City in 1979. (As a dedicated New Orleanian, that of course has never crossed my mind again, though I have bristled at the relocated team keeping the name Jazz and suggesting that if this city ever got another NBA team it should be called The New Orleans Tabernacle Choir.)
If hard times build enough character to win championships, then the New Orleans Pelicans should start dusting off a location to place an NBA trophy. By the time the former Charlotte Hornets relocated here in 2002, the franchise, now in its second decade here, 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 pouting 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 had it not been for Commissioner David Stern, who somehow believed in the city, even awarding it two all-star games, and, most importantly, was able to convince Tom Benson to buy the franchise.
Now what once was among the NBA’s most troubled operations 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 among the youngest in the NBA the team can conceivable be a front-runner for several years, plus there’s Zion Williamson, who sat out last season due to an injury, but is expected to be a full force this season and is bolstered by legitimate stars including Brandon Ingram and C.J. McCollum.
Playing in a division once dominated by The Los Angeles Lakers and where the Golden State Warriors have ruled lately, the possibilities of the Pelicans becoming the team of the future are nevertheless plausible Saints fans will remember the shift from perennial loser to champions. In the NBA, a few right moves can make a difference.
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. The team was a farm club for the Yankees, who played exhibition games here during Spring trainings.
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 expensive for minor league baseball.
Now, the name is not only applied to a big league basketball team but it also 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 that is a good sign because that means that there are plenty fish. We are blessed with the spectacle of Pelicans eyeing not only lakes, but Lakers as well.
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