NEW ORLEANS — Hornets owner Tom Benson is changing his team’s nickname to the Pelicans and said the switch will create a bond with the city that could lead to a championship.
The Hornets announced Thursday they are going ahead with the name change. The NBA still has to approve it, but Commissioner David Stern has said he wouldn’t object to any name Benson chose. The league is expected to expedite the change at the start of next season. The new color scheme is blue, gold and red, a departure from the Hornets’ teal, purple, gold and white. The Hornets have been in New Orleans since moving from Charlotte for the 2002-03 season, although they were relocated temporarily to Oklahoma City from 2005-2007 due to Hurricane Katrina. Benson, who also owns the Saints, bought the team last spring.
The nickname Hornets “didn’t mean anything to this community,” Benson said. “The pelican represents New Orleans, just like the Saints. They have incredible resolve. If they can do that, the team can do the same.”
The brown pelican is Louisiana’s state bird and has become identified with efforts to restore Louisiana’s coast, which has been damaged extensively by the 2010 BP oil spill and erosion from Katrina and other storms. Images of the pelicans covered with oil were plentiful after the oil spill. The brown pelican was taken off the endangered species list in 2009.
“We’re raising an entire generation to be very mindful to what happened to our coastal restoration,” said Rita Benson LeBlanc, Benson’s granddaughter and vice chairman of the board for the Hornets and the Saints. “Give it time, and I think everyone will be inspired (by the name change). It’s for a greater purpose.”
The team also unveiled five new logos. The primary one has a red background with the words New Orleans and pelicans written in white, a red pelican’s head and bill, a gold basketball and crescent and a red fleur de lis at the top.
“It’s a strong looking logo. that’s what I was most worried about,” coach Monty Williams said. “I was hoping it was dynamic and strong, and when I saw the colors and the angles of it, I thought it was great. It’s going to be great to see kids around the city in their pelican jerseys and hats.”
Benson owns the rights to the name Pelicans, which was the nickname for a former minor league baseball team that played in New Orleans for more than 70 years.
“When kids grow up, they’re going to identify with New Orleans Pelicans here,” said New Orleans head of basketball operations Mickey Loomis, who also is the Saints general manager. “It’s really New Orleans’ team. I think from the very beginning for Mr. B when he bought the team, he just wanted to make sure that I’m a local owner and this is a local team.”
The Hornets are New Orleans’ second NBA team. The Jazz played here from 1974-79 before leaving for Utah, and current Jazz owners have said they had no interest in giving up the name so New Orleans could have it back. There is a small campaign in Charlotte to “bring back the buzz” to North Carolina. Before they were the New Orleans Hornets, the franchise was located in Charlotte from 1988-2002 — then George Shinn moved the Hornets to the Big Easy. The Bobcats are doing market research to find out if the name change is worth it. Charlotte has hired Harris Interactive, a nationally prominent polling company, to survey current Bobcats customers and the Charlotte sports market to get their input on possibly changing the name.
“We are aware of the impending change regarding the team nickname in New Orleans,” said Bobcats president and COO Fred Whitfield. “We are currently in contact with the NBA and conducting our own due diligence relative to this matter.”