Pelicans on the Court

We have had an NBA franchise in New Orleans for 13 years now. Yet it has taken that long for the franchise and the city to get to know each other. This should be the year when the two embrace.

When the Charlotte Hornets relocated to New Orleans in 2002, they were welcomed and appreciated – but it was like strangers who had ridden into town. They were fun to watch, but the prevailing question was, “Who are these guys?”

That question might have been answered quicker had the team not had to flee the city for the 2005 and ’06 seasons because of the damage done to the arena by Hurricane Katrina.

For a while it looked like the team, which was well supported by Oklahoma City, might not return. Fortunately the league persisted, but New Orleanians were still detached from the players who they had not seen for three years. One of those players, Christ Paul, had a spectacular rookie year in Oklahoma City. Locals were denied witnessing his rise to glory.

After the franchise retuned to the city there was turmoil in the team’s ownership, so much so that the league had to take over operation of the club. When the franchise first arrived in town one of the angriest guys in town was Tom Benson, who feared competition at the box office with the Saints. Who would have thought that with the urging on then-NBA commissioner David Stern, Benson would one day own the basketball team, too?

Now in the third season of Benson’s rule, the team is renamed the Pelicans and has new colors and new management – all performing under the roof of the newly named Smoothie King Center. Plus there’s Anthony Davis, who is seen as one of the game’s great stars of the future. This could be the year when the future arrives.

Last season the Pelicans made the playoffs but lost in the first round  to the Golden State Warriors, the team that would go on to win the league championship.

In defeat though, the Pelicans were gutsy and showed a lot of promise. A new coach, Alvin Gentry, could take them a step further.

All the planets seem aligned for this to be a great season. If the team doesn’t go all the way, it should certainly go far enough to endear fans and to strengthen the support base.

Curiously, providing the color commentary for the TV broadcasts of the games is David Wesley, who was on the original New Orleans Hornets squad. Maybe this can be the year for him to experience a championship season.



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