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Hornets become Pelicans

28th January 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Christoper Tidmore
Contributing Writer

The New Orleans Hornets basketball team was re-dubbed the Pelicans, in an announcement by the team’s new majority owner Tom Benson on Thursday.

Conversations with NBA Com­missioner David Stern on a name change for the team began shortly after the Saints’ owner purchased the majority stake from previous owner George Shinn. And, the process that typically takes two years to switch the name of an NBA franchise was shortened to a year in deference to Benson.

However, one part of the story that the local media has ignored is that Benson, who owned the rights to the name “Pelicans” stopped another professional sports franchise from using it—one closer to the original purpose of the name.

A Pelican may serve as state bird on Louisiana’s flag and seal, yet older New Orleanians think of the name in sports terms for baseball. The Pelicans were a minor league baseball team in New Orleans from 1887 to 1959 and again in 1977.

When a group of investors first brought back minor league Baseball to the Crescent City in the form of the Zephyrs, they approached Tom Benson and asked if they could rename the team the “Pelicans” and the proposed stadium on Airline Drive “Pelican Stadium”. The reference would bring back memories of the old baseball stadium on Tulane and Carrollton avenues, along the New Basin Canal. (Now holding the Fontainebleau Apartments along side of I-10).

Benson held the trademark on the name, as it related to a sports team. And, when asked, he refused to release it, according to Rob Couhig, one of the Zephyrs’ owners. “He said he might want to use it for a baseball team one day.”

Instead, Benson used it for basketball, and the name of the new minor league baseball team remained the ‘Wind of the West,’ more appropriate to the other side of the Continental Divide.

Hornets President Dennis Lauscha explained at the press conference on Thursday, January 24, that the NBA franchise screened more than 100 potential nicknames, amongst them — Rougarou, Mosquitoes, Swamp Dogs and Bullsharks.

Now the team Jerseys will feature a Pelican with red eyes.

This article was originally published in the January 28, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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