We remember the moment, January 26, 2017. After 16 years, New Orleans’ NBA franchise had proved that it could win, not only on the court, but also in the hearts of fans.
With only 15 seconds left in a game against the Houston Rockets, who had the league’s best record, the Pelicans were about to clinch a big win. Up 113 to 109 Demarcus “Boogie” Cousins could add icing to the Pelican’s score as he took a foul shot. The shot bounced off the rim, no big deal. As the clock ticked, Cousins ran to the sideline where the ball was heading and swatted it back to the court. Victory was only a few seconds away, but then something went wrong. While the rest of the players ran down the court Cousins stayed behind and then fell to the floor. The scene was tense as play stopped.
Players, including former local favorite Chris Paul, now wearing a Rockets uniform, looked on. (Ironically the ball that Cousins swatted wound up in Paul’s possession though he missed the ensuing jump shot.) As Cousins grabbed for his leg the situation was bleak. At the moment of the Pelicans’ arrival as a serious performance, a star player was in pain from what appeared to be, and was, one of the game’s worst injuries, a torn Achilles tendon. Though still blessed by the presence of superstar Anthony Davis (with whom Cousins made an awesome scoring combo) the playoff hopes were suddenly diminished.
(Only two weeks earlier, New Orleans fans had suffered another crushing disappointment, when a desperate touchdown completion by the Minnesota Viking knocked the Saints from a win that would have put them one game from the Super Bowl.) Now this.
In the first few games after Cousins’ injury, the team struggled and seemed to be moving in reverse. However, a few deft player deals (including acquiring three point specialist Nikola Mirotić from the Chicago Bulls) and the team was winning again and qualified for the playoffs. In one of the franchise’s best moments, the Pelicans swept the Portland Trailblazers in the first round of the playoffs before having to face the era’s best teams, and the eventual champion, the Golden State Warriors. The Pelicans lost in five, but considering the circumstances it was a great season.
Teams are at their most endearing when they provide not only performance on the field but also storylines around which the fans can live the drama. Last season provided plenty of that.
This season will mark the 17th year since the former Charlotte Hornets moved here. The franchise’s existence here has been rocky, including evacuating to Oklahoma City after hurricane Katrina. There have been stars, but they always seemed to be looking to be somewhere else. Davis may be the franchise’s first long term dominator.
It has been said that New Orleans is a football town, but that is true of most cities during football season. There is still plenty time, and mental capacity, to worship another winner.
We are optimistic about what the season promises. (The home opener is October 19.) There have been some strange developments, most notably Boogie Cousins retuning, but in a Warriors uniform.
There is no doubt that the 2018-19 edition of the New Orleans Pelicans will be very good. We just need luck to be that way too.