New Orleans pro basketball: The definitive history

New Orleans pro basketball history

Born in New Orleans in the 1970s, my earliest basketball memories were of the late great "Pistol" Pete Maravich and the New Orleans Jazz. But just when I became old enough to start following the Jazz seriously, they moved to Utah. Fortunately, the Hornets later moved to New Orleans and I can now watch Chris Paul(notes), one of the greatest point guards in history. But the history of pro basketball in New Orleans is much richer than a couple of NBA franchises. New Orleans has also been graced with an ABA team, a women's pro team and two little-known pro teams in the 1940s. Take a look back at the history of pro basketball in New Orleans.

New Orleans Hurricanes (PBLA: 1947: 3-5)

Throughout America, pro basketball leagues were springing up everywhere after World War II. One such basketball league that could not even complete one season was the Professional Basketball League of America. The first pro basketball team in New Orleans history, the Hurricanes played eight games in 1947, going 3-5. 19-year-old Paul Seymour was the star of the Hurricanes, whose home was the Coliseum Arena in downtown New Orleans. Seymour was a second team All-PBLA and averaged 14.1 points per games, which was seventh in the league.

New Orleans Sports (SBL: 1948-1949: 7-24)

The Southern Basketball League also started play in 1947, but only completed two seasons. After the PBLA disbanded, New Orleans was granted an expansion basketball franchise in the SBL's second season. In 1948, the Sports became the second pro basketball team in New Orleans history. Playing basketball at the Lyons Memorial Center, the Sports were even worse than the Hurricanes, going 7-24. However, the Sports did have the 1948-1949 SBL leading scorer in Alex "Greek" Athas. A graduate of Tulane University, Athas was an SBL All-Star and averaged 20.1 points per game, the second best scoring average in SBL history.

New Orleans Buccaneers (ABA: 1967-1970: 136-104)

It was not easy growing up as a sports fan in New Orleans in the 1970s and early 1980s. Not only did the Saints and Jazz never even have a winning season, but the Jazz left town. But my grandpa, who was also a sports fan and a walking history of New Orleans, would tell me stories about the one major pro team in New Orleans that was a winner. That team was the New Orleans Buccaneers of the American Basketball Association.

One of the original ABA teams, the Buccaneers played basketball at the Loyola Field House. Led by players such as Jimmy Jones, Red Robbins, Larry Brown and Doug Moe, the Buccaneers went 48-30 in 1967-1968. That year, they advanced to the ABA Finals where they fell to the Pittsburgh Pipers 4-3. The following year, the Buccaneers went 46-32 and lost in the second round of the playoffs. After a 42-42 season in 1969-1970 playing at Tulane, the Buccaneers moved to Memphis. Until the Saints won the Super Bowl in 2010, the New Orleans Buccaneers were the most successful major pro sports team in New Orleans history.

New Orleans Jazz (NBA: 1974-1979: 161-249)

While playing basketball in New Orleans, the Jazz were one of the worst teams in the National Basketball Association. However, they had one of the greatest, most talented players in basketball history. When New Orleans received an expansion NBA franchise they needed a player to draw fan interest to a team that was likely to be terrible. So they traded for former LSU legend and Atlanta Hawk Pete Maravich.

After playing their first season in the Municipal Auditorium, the Jazz played basketball in the cavernous Louisiana Superdome for the rest of their history in New Orleans. After winning only 23 games their first year, the Jazz finished just a few games under .500 the next three seasons. But as Maravich's injuries mounted, the Jazz fell off again in 1978-1979 to 26-56. Finally, the Jazz moved to Utah the following year. There is an interesting footnote to Jazz history in New Orleans. When they signed free agent Gail Goodrich from the Lakers, Los Angeles received several Jazz draft picks as compensation. The Lakers used one of those picks to select Magic Johnson.

New Orleans Pride (WBL: 1979-1981: 39-32)

Prior to the success of the WNBA, most American women's pro basketball leagues were doomed to an early death. One of these leagues was the Women's Professional Basketball League. In the WBL's second year, New Orleans gained its first women's basketball team in history, the Pride. Playing in the Superdome and the University of New Orleans Field House, the Pride went 21-13 in its first season. However, they fell to the Minnesota Fillies in the playoffs 2-1. The next season, which was the WBL's last, the New Orleans Pride went 18-19 and missed the playoffs.

New Orleans Hornets (NBA: 2002-present: 338-337)

After a 23-year drought, the National Basketball Association returned to New Orleans in 2002. When the Hornets could not secure a new arena deal in Charlotte, the ownership moved the team to New Orleans. The second NBA team in New Orleans history, the Hornets were a solid basketball team that made the playoffs each of their first two years in the Crescent City. But much of that success came courtesy of a weak Eastern Conference and the Hornets lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat, respectively.

Following an awful 18-64 season in 2004-2005, the worst in franchise history, the Hornets drafted Chris Paul. One of the greatest point guards in basketball history, Paul quickly helped the Hornets reverse their fortunes. In 2007-2008, the New Orleans Hornets won the Southwest Division and garnered the #2 seed in the Western Conference. After defeating the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs, the Hornets fell to the San Antonio Spurs in a thrilling seven-game series. The following year, the Hornets again made the playoffs, but were embarrassed by the Denver Nuggets in the first round.

Sources

"Professional Basketball League of America 1947-48," apbr.com

"History of the Southern Basketball League," apbr.com

"Memphis Sounds Franchise Index," basketball-reference.com

"Utah Jazz Franchise Index," basketball-reference.com

"History of the Women's Professional Basketball League," apbr.com

"New Orleans Hornets Franchise Index," basketball-reference.com

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Updated Friday, Dec 10, 2010