HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — What’s in a nickname?
It depends on the circumstances. And for folks in New Orleans, those circumstances will change dramatically in the next 24 hours as the team they’ve known as the Hornets will become the Pelicans. The Hornets have scheduled a Thursday news conference to unveil their new logo, mascot and colors, per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports.
What’s in a nickname?
For Hornets (… er, soon-to-be Pelicans) owner Tom Benson, apparently everything.
The owner of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, Benson owned the rights to the Pelicans nickname before he bought the Hornets in April. The Pelicans date back to 1887 in New Orleans, giving them roots in the city dating back to before Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball (in 1891). The former minor league New Orleans Pelicans boast a rich baseball history and lineage, according to a Wikipedia entry:
Notable Pelicans included Shoeless Joe Jackson, Jimmy Dygert, Henry “Cotton” Knaupp, Bill Lindsay, Zeke Bonura, Gene Freese, and Hall of Famers Dazzy Vance, Joe Sewell, Bob Lemon and Earl Weaver. In Jackson’s only season with New Orleans (1910), he hit .354 to win the league batting title and led the team to the pennant with an 87–53 record. The following year, he would hit .408 with the American League’s Cleveland Naps.
In the 1950s, the team was associated with the Pittsburgh Pirates and was managed by Danny Murtaugh. Other notable Pelican managers included Larry Gilbert and Abner Powell, with the latter credited with introducing the “rain check” in 1889.
The Pelicans’ name briefly resurfaced during the 1977 season when oilman A. Ray Smith moved his Triple-A Tulsa Oilers to New Orleans to play in the Superdome. Tony La Russa was the starting shortstop for the team. After a single season, the team then moved toSpringfield, Illinois, and were renamed the Redbirds.
Whether or not the that history resonates in the city and with fans throughout the state and beyond, however, remains to be seen. As Spears noted, it wasn’t exactly met with fireworks from locals when word spread that a change was coming:
The name “Pelicans” has received a lot of criticism from Hornets fans and NBA followers. During the news conference, a video is expected to be shown explaining the history behind the nickname and what it means to New Orleans and the state. There was similar resistance when the Seattle SuperSonics changed their nickname to Thunder when the franchise moved to Oklahoma City in 2008, but now the nickname is widely accepted.
The Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans in 2002. Some fans are hoping the Charlotte Bobcats change their name back to the Hornets, considering the change in New Orleans. A source said the Bobcats will do their due diligence in considering a switch back to the Hornets, but nothing is imminent.
All that said, the Pelican is the state bird, on the state flag, on license plates various other official entities in the … wait for it … Pelican State.
But again, what’s in a nickname?
For fans of the Saints, Hornets and all things New Orleans who have come along since the baseball Pelicans, it’s all about the look of the new logo, mascot and colors.
“I believe people will like that it’s a state pride thing,” said Carl Blouin Jr., whose roots run generations deep in the Crescent City. “It really depends on what the logo looks like. If it’s a goofy Pelican with a long neck and a knot in his throat, no. If it’s a tough Pelican diving into Black Bay to catch a shad, looking fierce, then maybe so. But if it looks like a cartoon character … we’re going to have a major problem. It’s all going to depend on the logo.”