Pelicans much more than a nickname
So, how important is the name change from the New Orleans Hornets to the New Orleans Pelicans?
"I think it's going to help us get to a championship here," New Orleans owner Tom Benson said Thursday.
If Benson sounds like a car salesman, well, it's because he is. Nicknames don't suit up. They don't win games or keep coaches from getting fired. (They can put fannies in seats — the Cowboys and Yankees can attest to that, home or away.)
But in the case of the Pelicans, those touting the moniker switch at a celebratory news conference at New Orleans Arena believe this is more than just a simple name change. More than Sonics becoming Thunder or Oilers morphing into Titans.
Marketers call it a rebranding. For Benson and Co., it's reconnecting. The Hornets of teal-and-purple origin never made sense in the Big Easy. It didn't matter how much gold was added to the uniform or how many fleur-de-lis were plastered about the premises.
"The Hornets name was brought here from Charlotte and I guess that is where it belongs," Benson said, "but it doesn't mean anything here."
Not for much longer, at least. The New Orleans franchise successfully lobbied the NBA to waive its two-year wait on re-branding teams. Benson promised an identity that better represents the city of New Orleans and the region after buying the franchise last April. That means the NBA Hornets move into extinction, provided Michael Jordan doesn't re-brand his Charlotte bunch.
The Pelicans will officially hit the floor outfitted in blue, gold and red next season. Gold is a tie-in to the Benson-owned New Orleans Saints, while blue is in the state flag and red is a nod to the color underneath the pelican's throat.
"I like the colors. I like the logo," guard Greivis Vasquez said. "It represents the city. I really like the gold. I think the logo is very creative. It's not like some people thought it was going to be. This is a good-looking logo — all of them. It's going to be fun. We'll see how the uniforms are going to look like for next year."
As for the significance of Pelicans, it goes beyond just being the state bird of Louisiana. The large water bird represents the resolve of the Gulf Coast region post hurricanes and oil spills, while symbolizing the state's commitment to wildlife conservation.
The spirit of perseverance and renewal ingrained in the fabric of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast served as further inspiration for the name. Pelicans, much as the region, have proven resilient.
Sports and environmental issues rarely mix, unless you're talking to Steve Nash, but Thursday's announcement included the president and CEO of Audubon Nature Institute, and the governor's assistant for coastal activities. The mayor was also on hand.
"There is no better American character that Louisianans represent than resilience, and coming back from near extinction," Mayor Mitch Landrieu said. "The Saints were proof-positive of how you can be bad, and then how you can suffer through great tragedy and you can come back to be the very best.
"This name is a name that represents not only the best that Louisiana has to offer, but also the values that New Orleanians and Louisianans have to offer to the rest of the nation as they come here this week (for the Super Bowl) and see something that they did not imagine. Seven years ago we were 15 feet under water."
It wasn't that long ago that the Hornets were drowning. The franchise was nearing extinction, a target for relocation that had to be bought by the league just to remain in New Orleans. Benson stepped up financially, as did the local government. A new practice facility is in the works next to the Saints facility and $50 million in improvements are going to be pumped into New Orleans Arena.
When word first leaked of Pelicans as a possible name, it was met with skepticism in many circles. Former Hornets franchise player Chris Paul went so far as to tweet Thursday, "Pelicans??? #ImNotRollin."
It's impossible to please everyone, short of possibly snagging Jazz back from Utah. What the stewards of the New Orleans franchise did was find a name that hopefully bonds with city, state and region, while teaching valuable lessons in sustainability and maintaining a healthy habitat.
For New Orleans coach Monty Williams, the new bird is already quite familiar. He fancies himself an avid fisherman who visits the bay often fishing for redfish or trout.
"I see pelicans all the time, but never thought much about it," Williams said. "I had no idea that the brown pelican was an animal that embodied so many attributes that we want to represent and New Orleans represents, such as resiliency and charity. To hear what this name change is going to do for this city and region, I'm all in."
Follow Art Garcia on Twitter: @ArtGarcia92