When the then-New Orleans Hornets were rumored to be set to changing their nickname to the New Orleans Pelicans late in 2012, the move was met by much derision. And for good reason. The pelican may be a historically significant part of New Orleans culture, and apparently a pretty fearsome excavator of both sea and land, but for the unaware amongst us (outside of NOLA historians and ornithology experts) it seemed like a strange surprise.
All-Star guard Jrue Holiday was probably taken by surprise, as we all were, when the Philadelphia 76ers agreed to deal the 23-year old guard to New Orleans on draft night. Prior to that agreement, Holiday didn’t really have to think about the Hornets (who were created, in Charlotte, two years prior to Holiday’s birth) moving over to become the Pelicans, as the 76ers only take on NOLA twice per year. That agreement made sure that Holiday would become a member of the Pelicans a few weeks later when the transaction was made legal, and Jrue quickly had to adapt to a name we’re all still getting used to. From Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver:
“ […] the double-take that comes with the franchise’s new nickname, a Gulf Coast-centric moniker that drew some guffaws and raised eyebrows when the change from ‘Hornets’ was officially announced earlier this year.
“I mean, it’s funny, I’m not going to lie,” new point guard Jrue Holiday admitted Wednesday.
“It’s funny saying it. ‘We’re the Pelicans.’ But I’ve said it about half a million times now, so I’m used to it.”
It is funny saying “we’re the Pelicans,” but that’s to be expected. For one, there are only a dozen or so Pelicans players under contract now, on top of the organization in question. There aren’t that many people that should really be saying “we’re the Pelicans.” That goes for even the most ardent Pelican fans – you aren’t a Pelican. They’re the Pelicans. You’re just a really big fan.
It’s also to be expected because very few NBA team names really jump out and make a whole lot of sense. Your Warriors, your Grizzlies, your Timberwolves? Your Kings? Your Bulls? Your Thunder? They make total sense. Even the Charlotte Bobcats make sense – Bobcats are frightening – even if the name was loathed and mocked from the outset and ready to be changed back to the name New Orleans just abandoned.
Most other NBA teams need an explanation. Mainly because this is a young league, and most of the typical names were taken by the time these franchises started up.
Holiday’s former 76ers? The American independence movement that came to a head in 1776 mostly took place in Philadelphia.
The Boston Celtics? Lots of Irish in Boston, even if the Celtic language isn’t exactly pronounced that way.
The New York Knicks? Short for “Knickerbockers,” and we really shouldn’t get into the rest.
The Phoenix Suns. It’s always sunny in Phoenix. Don’t let those 76ers tell you otherwise.
The Heat? The Magic? Basketball team names ending in the letter “s” were outlawed by Florida Governor Bob Martinez in 1987.
The Los Angeles Lakers? There are a lot of lakes in Minnesota. Los Angeles wanted to pay tribute.
The Utah Jazz? Former owner Sam Battisone loved irony.
That’s a lot of NBA that don’t make a lot of sense, and considering the pelican’s ravenous habits, one could argue that the new New Orleans team name should actually strike a bit more fear in the heart of an opponent than just about half the teams Holiday’s crew will go up against this season.
Now, a team built around a backcourt featuring Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans all attempting to share the ball? It’s funny. I’m not going to lie. I’ve thought about it half a million times now, and I’m still not used to it.