By Sam Hart | @the_line_131
A five-minute browse of social media outlets in an attempt to gauge the general consensus on the New Orleans Hornets’ somewhat controversial re-branding reveals a little more than bargained for – most of it probably not repeatable here. The level of vitriol, of hate-filled trolling and confusion is almost staggering. Facebook and Twitter are hardly the most scientific sources but it is still hard to ignore the picture the decision has painted. Heads are scratching all over North America and even further afield. But is it really that bad?
First, the history: the Charlotte Hornets entered the National Basketball Association in 1988 as part of a four-franchise expansion, struggling through 14 mostly mediocre seasons before moving to New Orleans in ’02 following a year-on-year decline in fan attendances. The team settled, made way for the Bobcats to take residence in Charlotte and picked up CP3 before the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina brought the city to its knees. They temporarily took up residence in Oklahoma City (such a successful stint that OKC was granted a franchise permanently, the up-start Thunder – sorry, Sonics fans!) before returning triumphantly and Benson purchasing the club last year.
He wanted a nickname change before a single ball was even bounced under his ownership… enter The Pelicans.
When the rumours began, it was no more than a silly suggestion, a Chinese whisper; something that, surely, could never actually become a reality. When it was first mooted, i’ll admit, I disliked it intensely. It sounded weak, embarrassing. It sounded like a joke. It reminded me immediately of a book written by Roald Dahl that I used to read as a child, ‘The Giraffe and The Pelly and Me’. Ugh.
A poll held on NBA.com’s Hang Time Blog asked, ‘What’s In A Nickname?’, with voteable options: ‘Jazz… give us our nickname back!’, ‘Hornets was fine. No need for change’ and, finally, ‘Pelicans works for me. It’s a state pride thing’. The latter finished bottom. Comfortably bottom.
I myself, however, have changed my tune somewhat. Almost as soon as I laid eyes on the official badges and colour scheme and read the reasons behind them, I… understood. It just feels right, somehow. It fits. And it seems, so far, that the vast, vast majority of the negativity towards the changes are coming from outside the city limits and outside the state. As Benson and Co. go some way to explain in the launch materials, the Pelican is synonymous with New Orleans: from the bird itself bobbing up and down on the waters off of the Gulf Coast and its place on the Louisiana State Flag and Seal, to the many structures and statues of it found around N’Orleans and the ghosts of past sports teams.
The NBA is a global brand with a worldwide appeal and fan following. But, if anything, this makes the change-up all the more respectable. Going for something so home-town-centric is a bold move, especially when it is sure to welcome derision, mockery and even alienation from the rest of the sporting – let alone basketball – universe. It seems, for the most part, to be a nickname that the fans in the region can actually be proud of.
And lest we forget the bigger picture, here. The world’s worst oil spill (which, obviously, directly effected the Pelican’s very well-being and way of life) and, of course, the lingering heartbreak of Katrina are still fresh in the Crescent City. Residents of New Orleans deserve a break, deserve some joy, deserve an NBA franchise of their very own. With the Hornets name, that could never be the case. Now, simply, it is, even if nobody else gets it.
Who’s willing to wager, though, that after a couple of seasons nobody will care about the name anymore? They’ll just be another team.
With this campaign’s crew currently possessing one of the worst records in the League, propping up the Southwest Division, a re-branding and a good ol’ fashioned fresh start might be exactly what’s needed.
So, all together now: LET’S GO, PELS!
(Hmmm. Maybe give it some time.)