64 Parishes

New Orleans Pelicans

New Orleans’s basketball team is named for Louisiana’s state bird, the brown pelican.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Historic New Orleans Collection

New Orleans Pelicans pennant, 2019.

The New Orleans Pelicans are a professional basketball team playing in the Western Conference Southwest Division of the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Professional basketball first came to the city in 1967 with the New Orleans Buccaneers, a charter member of the American Basketball Association. The Buccaneers would change names and cities several times, leaving New Orleans following the 1969–1970 season. The New Orleans Jazz, an NBA expansion franchise, started playing in 1974 before moving to Salt Lake City, Utah in 1979. And then there was the New Orleans Pride, a franchise in the short-lived Women’s Professional Basketball League from 1979 to 1981.

In 2002 the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets relocated to New Orleans under the ownership of North Carolina sports magnate George Shinn. The next decade saw several losing seasons and a temporary move to Oklahoma City following Hurricane Katrina, during which the team was rebranded the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. The team returned full time to the New Orleans Arena, now the Smoothie King Center, for the start of the 2007–2008 season.

Tom Benson, then owner of the New Orleans Saints football franchise, purchased the Hornets in April 2012 and soon vocalized a wish to change the team’s name to a mascot with more local flavor. One year later, on April 18, 2013, the team rebranded as the New Orleans Pelicans, named for Louisiana’s state bird, the brown pelican. Some basketball fans locally and across the globe decried the new name as wimpy, not intimidating enough. But Barry Petchesky, a reporter for the popular sports blog Deadspin, defended the pelican’s toughness, calling the bird “fearsome” and “the world’s best-designed killing machine.”

The pelican nickname has a long association with the city’s athletic teams, dating to as early as 1865 with the establishment of the Pelican Base Ball Club. Most notably a minor league baseball team played in the Southern League as the New Orleans Pelicans from 1887 to 1959, with an additional year tacked on in 1977. The New Orleans Black Pelicans, of the first Negro Southern League, formed in 1926.

Today’s New Orleans Pelicans play in navy blue, gold, and red uniforms, the same colors represented in the city flag. They play home games in the Smoothie King Center, and their mascot is a Pelican named Pierre T. Pelican, a moniker chosen in an online poll. The team’s only retired number, seven, belongs to someone who never played in a Pelicans (or Hornets) uniform: Pete Maravich, a Louisiana State University standout (1966–1970), Basketball Hall of Fame inductee (1987), and five-time NBA All-Star guard from the New Orleans Jazz years. Several marquee players have played for the team since the Hornets era, including Chris Paul (2005–2011), Anthony Davis (2012–2019), and current power forward Zion Williamson (2019–present).