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I’m starting this post on New Year’s morning, just after writing the New Year’s Eve piece for the site, then holding my dog up for a while to see the fireworks, get some exercise, and answer the call of nature (he can’t walk). People are furiously celebrating having made it for another year and the chance for yet another.
Over the past few months, I’ve taken notes, scribbled, doodled, edited poorly. I’ve done this casually for quite some time, actually, but now it’s active. Now it’s here, upon me. Someone has to do it . . . might as well be me.
Sometimes, however, you know for a fact that there won’t be another year to celebrate, not because `the world’ ends, but because something in it is. This is both a gift and burden. It gives time to celebrate those intervening moments. It gives time and cognizance to make things count. It adds perspective. On the burden side, it’s just a bummer. You tick off the number of good times, watching the numbers proceed down to one.
This is happening, basically, with “Hornets.” (As it was with my dog; he died in February, on trade deadline day. I miss you, Cosmo. Very much.)
“Hornets” is going away and “Pelicans” is coming in. “Hornets” will cease, at least as the active entity they were since their inception.
Even if there is a second life in Charlotte or some other town, it won’t be the same. People are, of course, pointing to Winnipeg and Phoenix, saying, “The Jets aren’t the Coyotes! The Jets aren’t the Thrashers! The Jets are the Jets!” For those who don’t know, the Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix and became the Phoenix Coyotes, where the franchise has continued to struggle as it did in Winnipeg. Meanwhile, the Thrashers were sold and relocated from Atlanta to Winnipeg, rebranding in the process to the Jets.
Still, it’s not the same.
You can never come home again.
Looking back at those colors that will never fly again over New Orleans as the home team. One last battle against the Mavericks (I hate Dallas) at home, and win or lose, the colors will never return home. Then, one last battle against the Mavericks (I hate Dallas) on the road, and win or lose, “Hornets” can’t come back.
You can never come home again.
Much has been made of the rebrand since before the team arrived. All the reasons for, all the reasons against, all the processes and choices. We’ll touch on that, sure, but the main point is to really remember “Hornets,” from the New Orleans perspective mostly. Some important things have happened under this flag. It’s equally important that these things be remembered, respected when appropriate.
“Hornets” was born in Charlotte at some time between 1776 and 1988 (yes, Cornwallis came to Charlotte in 1780, but they were already riled up). When the NBA awarded Charlotte an expansion franchise, this little bit of local lore about Charlotte being a hornets nest of rebellion became the source of the team’s name. The pin stripes reflected the new life of the city as a banking power. The colors were a bold choice and worked well.
The team was embraced, leading the NBA in attendance numerous times. Even without standard measures of success like division titles, the team became noteworthy with players such as Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson, Glen Rice, and favorites such as Muggsy Bogues, and making the playoffs 7 of 14 seasons in Charlotte.
Then, amid a series of well-documented events caused the relationship between ownership and the market to sour. After it was determined to be irreparable, the Hornets looked to relocate. They chose New Orleans.
The Hornets came to New Orleans under inglorious circumstances following the rather public fight in Charlotte and choosing to come to a smaller market. Locally, the choice to keep the Hornets brand rather than to leave the identity in Charlotte and embrace a rather prickly and proud local culture, that, in all fairness, is world-renowned, is a destination for many, and is home to one of the most recognizable streets in the Western World. Ownership had their reasons for wanting to stand pat, but that choice had consequences in rebuffing that priceless resource and its stewards.
People supported the team to bring it to New Orleans, but support waned as the record dropped and tensions with star guard Baron Davis exceeded tolerance levels.
Then, amid the rebuild, Hurricane Katrina struck the region. While New Orleans was spared the heaviest of the wind damage and storm surge, the federal protective levees failed, allowing much of the city to fill with water. Not only did this instantly reconfigure the regions economy and demographics (to put it mildly), the timing necessitated the city’s two top professional teams to play elsewhere for a time. The Saints were the focus, and they were brought back after one vagabond season, playing “home games” in NYC (against the Giants no less), San Antonio, and Baton Rouge. The Hornets, meanwhile, played games at the Ford Center and Lloyd Noble Center in Oklahoma and the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and New Orleans Arena in Louisiana over the course of the next two seasons before returning to New Orleans `permanently’.
While this was going on, the Hornets franchise embraced Oklahoma City who embraced them back. Attendance was high, and much higher than in the most recent season in New Orleans. While understandable, given the Oklahoma City had no professional sports at the top level and recognized this to be the audition that it was, the over-the-top embrace of the franchise was a little much for locals who did not feel the team had embraced them as heartily. The the team had Oklahoma City officially added to their name, and “the patch” was created. The team was called “Your Hometown Hornets,” and embrace that might have been intended to include all, but rather served to further exclude the New Orleanians, many of whom remember the Jazz walking off to Utah after 5 seasons, that welcomed the team from Charlotte since it was not them this was being said to, but their current hosts and would-be suitors. As time went on, it became clear than the ownership would be just fine continuing to play in Oklahoma City, a region who’s culture, like Utah’s, is different enough to make such a decision take on a character beyond that of mere dollars for New Orleans residents, and make the stewardship of the team and permanent arrangement. Finally, when the team did return, attendance benchmarks based on pre-Katrina attendance were added to the lease that, if not me, would allow the team to relocate. Thus, despite on the court success upon their return to New Orleans, the support was not deep in large numbers, and it waned as the wins did.
Local minority ownership was sought upon the return to New Orleans, and a plan to have a veritable second line of small local owners was scrapped when Gary Chouest decided to pick up a large minor portion, which he did, then increased it, indicating his desire to purchase the team at some point. When it came time to do so, however, Chouest’s personal business was being stressed due to the Deepwater Horizon oil leak. Despite tens of millions being sacrificed by ownership to sell the team to Chouest and keep the team in New Orleans (after Larry Ellison’s substantial offer to buy the team and relocate it which was unacceptable to ownership) , the deal could not be done. The NBA purchased the team after several months. Under NBA stewardship, many initiatives were undertaken to build the value of the franchise including engaging local businesses and increasing the season ticket base with unprecedented techniques . . . that worked . . . during a months-long lockout no less. Despite candidate owners from California being in the mix, New Orleans Saints owner (and more) Tom Benson was announced as the new owner of the team, and that deal was consummated in short order.
While this was going on, the mutual love affair between the team’s stars Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler, David West, and Peja Stojakovic began to fall apart as Chandler was unsuccessfully traded then successfully traded due to injury and financial concerns, Peja declined, and Chris Paul was significantly injured. Once ownership instability hit, Chris Paul decided to bolt, and despite efforts to clean up the franchise, it was too little too late, and the best Hornets player in history left for the other other LA, the hapless Clippers, which many fans perceived as a slap in the face.
While some were excited Benson’s purchase of the team, there was too much work to do for the team to be successful. The first year of Benson’s ownership was spent
- Clearing inefficient contracts off of the books
- Consolidating Saints and Hornets business operations
- Getting a new TV deal, resulting in Fox Sports New Orleans
- Securing new pour rights with PepsiCo
- Deciding what to do with Basketball Operations Personnel (Dell and Monty were extended)
- Getting a practice facility on track for the 2013-2014 season
- Securing and supporting the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend
- Working with the LSED to finalize upgrades to the New Orleans Arena
- Progress towards a naming rights sponsor
- Resetting ticket prices to meet the current market
- Rebranding to the Pelicans
NBA star Eric Gordon turned out to require more attention and contribute less on the court in his first 2 seasons with the Hornets, while draft picks Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers progressed during an injury-riddled season. This resulted in fewer wins on the court and a lighter response from the market that the best of circumstances would have delivered.
And so it goes.
This story is a true New Orleans story. This city has nearly 300-year history of taking in those who left the homelands, or those forced out, and transforming them into locals. Maybe not model citizens. Maybe not model anythings, but New Orleanians nonetheless.
It’s a sad story from one perspective, but would this team be a New Orleans team if it was just handed to us? Would this team be a New Orleans team if we didn’t have to fight and scrape . . . and get a little help along the way from people that just believe this is a special place even if it’s not for them?
I don’t think so.
The Saints were born here, but they were the product of some high-powered political wrangling that forced the NFL to put a franchise here. The Hornets, like Milton’s Adam, did not ask to be made in the fashion they were. But like Bradbury’s colonists on Mars, one day they looked down at their reflections and knew they were no longer seeing Earthlings, but Martians, so the Hornets looked down after their long, strange trip, and saw that they became New Orleanians . . . whether they liked it or not.
And so this rebirth of the Hornets becomes the birth of the Pelicans, just as Calliope (Cah-lie-oh-pee) becomes Calliope (Cal-ee-ope), just as poor boy become po boy, and all the food just becomes better.
Right or wrong, this is New Orleans team now as much because of the blood, sweat, and tears, as because of the path the team has taken. Where else could it be?
Those lumps are part of the story. Those changes are part of the story.
All the memories of cheering for Chris Paul to hit that buzzer-beater; of celebrating with those friends and the end of the night who were strangers at the start; of just begging Dirk to move a muscle when David West tapped his face; of being heart-broken, but bold, when the fourth quarter against the Spurs just slipped away like a too-slippery oyster; of your first dates; of the last time your family was whole and happy, if only for a night; of believing in an uncertain time that this city is special and will persevere; of thinking to yourself that if the Hornets can do it then so can I; of just relaxing in that familiar seat like its in your home; those are a part of this Pelicans team if you let them be.
Those events made the Pelicans who they will be. The idea that those things can be erased or transferred, that that will be, or should be, are all just on-paper-revisions and semantics. They happened. They are in that Arena and in this city as much as any fan is . . . or was. If we choose to hold onto them, they ride with us, just like the choices of LaSalle, Bienville, Jackson, Lafayette . . . none local, all local.
Such is a krewe.
The Krewe of New Orleans, whether they like it or not.
No matter how you feel about the colors or names or whatever about this two-name-no-name frustration of a team, realize that you’ve been a part of this for so long, and that you are a part of this team.
Stay a part of it.
And, remember “Hornets” no matter what.
From New Orleans . . .
for the last time . . .
in every sense. . .
Deep stuff put unbeleivably perfectly into words. Tom Benson is the man, to say the least, saving the Saints twice from moving elsewhere and putting equal love and passion into the hornets immediatly. I am at my maximum comfort level being in such good hands. Lets go out and get a win for Mr. Benson tonight. Geaux HORNETS!
Very nice heartfelt, nostalgic piece, Jason. I still have my inaugural Oct. 30, 2002, Hornets ticket (when they fittingly Christened the Arena as an Eastern Conference team with a victory over the Jazz and by retiring Pistol Pete's New Orleans Jazz jersey and number), and my son still has dozens of Hornets bobbleheads he's collected over the years. We all scratched our heads when Rick Flair introduced his "woooh!" cheer for Baron Davis, but we didn't hesitate to enthusiastically transfer it a few years later to Chris Paul. And it all came full circle for me on Friday night when we all got to scream "woooh!" every time CP3 missed a shot. It will be an emotional game against the Mavs this evening, but I won't be heartbroken if the New Orleans Hornets' final home game is a loss that improves the New Orleans Pelicans' lottery odds.
Yes, I too was at the Saints return to the Super Dome. Many of us were still displaced. It was like a Jazz Funeral on Steroids. The Hornets have given me great Family experiences. Those nights at the hive with C.P., Tyson, D. West. were very great and I can't wait to see A.D. and company make their run at the Title.
This coming week will be the end of 20 yrs supporting the Hornets for me. Such great memories from the 90's in Charlotte to the post 2000's in New Orleans, some really great players have been a Hornet. Never forget the past as we move to the future, Our franchise has history. Here's to championship success under the Pelicans banner.
I love being part of a franchise that "scrapes," as you say. Everyone loves a winner, but true fans stick with crappy teams. We've seen it with the Saints, and the reward in winning one Super Bowl or experiencing a life-changing event (vs. Falcons after Katrina)far outweighs superficial love of a perennial powerhouse. Great work Jason, along with everyone else that writes,reads, and comments on this great site. I love this damn team and this city.
I was at the Falcons one and was on a house off Bourbon for the Super Bowl. People crying, giving high-fives, and hugging other people they had never met. Game 4 vs the Lakers was much of the same, and I was there for that as well. Man, that's the stuff. You aren't kidding, they really were life-changing. Transcendent experiences that I wouldn't trade for anything.
Yeah, that Falcons game was something. I still have the handmade signs my female bartenders made for the bar I was running at the time. I don't know if the Pelicans can ever replicate that, I don't really want them to get the chance. But still an awesome night.
I heard Miami was sorta New Orleans 2.0 for the game, so I imagine it was equally awesome. Sounds like a hell of a trip.
I was torn between going to Miami and staying here. Actually, I wanted to stay here, so I was torn between what I wanted and what my buddy wanted. I chose to support him, and I drove the whole way. We saw 2 NASCAR races, 2 race tracks (one had no races), the Super Bowl, A-Rod at the W, and a Space Shuttle launch. Plus we were back for Lombardi Gras, easy. And more. Fine trip.
I was at both those games. They both changed my life. I do not exaggerate here one iota. That can happen for Hornets fans. If not us, then the kids. More importantly, I was at both with the same friend of mine. He has 3 kids. It's them I think of. And what you said there is very important . . . "I love being part of a franchise . . ." that right there is the meat of it, isn't it?
Hoping the city understands the good things happening in the organization and backs the Pelican's era 100%!!