The first-ever showdown between the Charlotte Hornets and New Orleans Pelicans

Published: November 4, 2014

Tonight the Charlotte Hornets face the New Orleans Pelicans. The last time the Hornets played in New Orleans was April 14th, 2013. The first time the Hornets played in New Orleans was October 30th, 2002. That game was against the Utah Jazz, who used to be the New Orleans Jazz. The New Orleans Jazz last played in 1979. The Jazz didn’t become the Hornets, but the Hornets became the Pelicans. In between there was also a thing called the Oklahoma City Hornets that we’d like to forget, as well as a thing where the Timberwolves almost moved to New Orleans that nobody seems to remember. Miraculously, the Hornets returned to New Orleans, and, in its own twisted way, the Oklahoma City Hornets became the Oklahoma City Thunder. Meanwhile, a team called the Bobcats played in Charlotte where the Hornets used to play. Eventually the Bobcats became the Hornets but before that their was nearly a San Jose Hornets. One time in 2013 the New Orleans Pelicans played the Charlotte Bobcats in the New Orleans Arena, but that will never, ever happen again, unless a team rebrands as the Bobcats (Utah?). Tonight, the Pelicans, an NBA team, will play a home basketball game, in New Orleans, against the Hornets. The Charlotte Hornets. It’s confusing, but it’s happening.


The rebrand narrative amongst New Orleanians was in a state of flux for a very long time, though many are now heavily leaning towards a pro-Pelicans, whatever-Hornets stance. Marketing experts knew this would happen, regardless of whatever threats being shouted on the internet. I’ve seen people who once swore up and down on Twitter that they would never support the rebrand leaving the merchandise store with giant bags of Pels gear in their hands. The same people who claimed on message boards that the rebrand would never work and they would lose them as a fan are at the Smoothie King Center in their new Tyreke Evans jersey. Tyreke Evans, the result of a handful of trades us Pels fans reacted to with a “wait, whoa, what”, largely because they seemed to come out nowhere. But Dell Demps is the kind of general manager that will kill you with a thousand paper cuts.

pelicans donutThere’s a coffee shop around the corner from my house, District, where I threw a party last year. The chef and manager of District agreed to make special Pelicans donuts (they also serve donuts of the “this looks so beautiful how do I eat this” variety) to commemorate the final game of the season. The ingredients of the donut were a reach (blueberry icing, a licorice unibrow, and filled with a strawberry yogurt “smoothie” for a “Smoothie King” center) but the crowd that showed up for the event was enthusiastic and feeling generally positive about the rebrand. Dell Demps showed up (why wouldn’t he?) and asked me what I think the team should focus on. I saw him again at District before the start of this season and he asked me the same question again. Dell Demps is beloved among most Pelicans fans. He’s accessible, he’s friendly, and he works his ass off. The only people who dislike him are the same people who claimed they wouldn’t renew their season tickets if the team rebranded. Those people, as previously discussed, are now wearing Tyreke Evans jerseys instead of their precious, out of date Chris Paul jerseys.

When the Clippers played the Pelicans in New Orleans last year, there was a sale on replica Chris Paul jerseys. For only $3 you could get a jersey of the man who basically saved basketball in the Crescent City. The arena was getting a huge renovation, and I imagine the building planner found a room where all these jerseys were being kept and he suggested the team get rid of them. Tom Benson, proud owner of the Pelicans and the city’s first sports love, the Saints, probably said “let’s sell these things for $3”, and so it happened. I purchased an armful of them for a voodoo ritual I’m saving for when the Pelicans face the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs next April. The Tyson Chandler and Julian Wright jerseys have all been sold, given away, recycled, or trashed. Where once was racks and racks of creole blue (New Orleans teal) Austin Rivers jerseys now sit racks and racks of red, navy, gold, white (New Orleans flag) Austin Rivers jerseys. CP_replica

The Pelicans brand is everywhere. Chris Paul, though, he never played for the Pelicans and he didn’t like the name Pelicans. When the rebrand was leaked, he tweeted “Pelicans??? #ImNotRollin”, completing the journey of becoming a guy that the new New Orleans basketball fan didn’t really care for.  We always knew he was the kind of guy you hated when he played against your team, and now he was playing us on the court and on social media. Meanwhile, he has yet to take his fancy new Los Angeles team any further than he took his old New Orleans team.

Chris Paul may have saved the Hornets from becoming the Oklahoma City Hornets (sorry, Seattle), but Tom Benson saved the NBA in New Orleans with a clutch assist from David Stern (sorry again, Seattle). When he purchased the team in 2012, the rebrand was inevitable, the question was just “to what?”. Many locals cried for the same thing national media cried for, but a three way trade (Hornets to Charlotte, Jazz to New Orleans, brand overhaul to Utah) was never going to happen, no matter the number of “how much Jazz is actually in Utah?” jokes that you heard from all the people who thought they were the only ones who thought of that. Though, one could argue that it would be no more confusing than the team history between Charlotte and New Orleans. As it stands now, the New Orleans Pelicans are essentially considered a 2002 expansion team whose name happened to be the Hornets until 2013. The Charlotte Hornets existed from 1988 to 2002, then stopped playing basketball until 2004 when they were the Bobcats until they were the Hornets again. While we’re here, the Bobcats were almost named the Flight (winner of a fan vote) but then became the Bobcats when then-owner Robert Johnson, credit: crabdribbles.compresumably, wanted to name the team after himself. The Pelicans never held a formal fan vote, but many local media outlets did. The popular choices were Brass or Krewe and there were filings for “Louisiana Angels” and “Louisiana Spirit” copyrights to the Louisiana Secretary of State, much to the confusion of local fans.  If the Bobcats went with Flight, would the Hornets have ever become the Pelicans? If the Pelicans were the Spirit, would our mascot have still required surgery after being the laughingstock of the sports world for months? These are the questions that keep me up at night. But Tom Benson is a smart man who understands the need for New Orleans residents to feel pride for being New Orleans residents. So, he went with the most logical, interesting, badass choice there was – the Pelicans.

Now there’s a Tom Benson statue in front of the Superdome, which is next door to the Smoothie King Center. The Smoothie King Center is a ridiculous sounding name (that I personally love) but it also happens to be another locally relevant choice, as the franchise began in New Orleans in 1973. It now has approximately 1 trillion locations worldwide, but you could say the smoothie phenomenon began in the Big Easy. You could also say that New Orleans has the only NBA arena where everyday you can consume the product the building is named after. A close second is the Pepsi Center, but drinking Pepsi everyday is bad for you. A very distant third is Staples. You don’t want to eat staples ever, much less every day.

I counted the number of Hornets jerseys I saw this year for the first game in the twice newly-renovated Smoothie King Center. Last season they were still everywhere. Easily 100 people per game were wearing something with the fleur-de-bee on it, or a David West jersey shirt, or a Chris Paul All-Star jersey. This year I only saw 2. When I offered to escort the guy I saw in the CP3 away jersey to the team store, he proudly shouted, “it’s vintage. I’m rocking vintage.”


The Charlotte Hornets were vintage. Since 2002, fans routinely wore Charlotte hats, starter jackets, and jerseys to the New Orleans Arena. Even when the Bobcats came around, the Charlotte Hornets were still alive and buzzing in New Orleans. The New Orleans Hornets aren’t vintage. Imagine wearing a Tyson Chandler New Orleans Hornets jersey to a Charlotte Hornets game. Only thing that might be worse is wearing a Tyson Chandler Charlotte Bobcats jersey to a Charlotte Hornets game. Oddly enough, New Orleans knows what it’s like to lose a beloved brand, as New Orleans Jazz jerseys are often sported at Pelicans games. Oklahoma City Hornets jerseys, no. Pistol Pete Maravich, yes. Why not be proud of your cities basketball history? Unless you’re Charlotte, then you might ignore the Bobcats era. Will the Pelicans ignore their Hornets era? These are the questions that keep me up at night.


There wasn’t too much fanfare when the New Orleans Hornets played their last game. Since the franchise seemed to be mostly looking ahead to the rebrand, there was only a video montage at the end of the game that was largely centered around Hugo saying goodbye. I predict tonight we’ll see the first time meeting between Pierre and Hugo. That room where all the CP3 jerseys were? Hugo was in there as well. But Hugo wasn’t marked 90% off and sold in the team shop. Hugo was kept safe, being saved for the right moment. That moment is tonight, when the New Orleans Pelicans play the Charlotte Hornets in New Orleans for the first time. Where it will be the last time it’s okay to wear New Orleans Hornets gear at a Pelicans game. Where we will hopefully see a handshake at center court between post-surgery Pierre and a resurrected Hugo, marking the official end of the New Orleans Hornets era. We’re happy Charlotte got their name back. We’re happier we got our own name again.

Chris Trew is a comedian and Pelicans season ticket holder.  Follow him on Twitter here and listen to his weekly New Orleans sports podcast here (or on Stitcher or iTunes). Today’s episode breaks down the possibility of a Hugo vs. Pierre halftime showdown and whether or not it’s okay to wear New Orleans Hornets gear to a Pelicans game. 






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