Can you handle 'the Pelicans'?

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
12:42
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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It has been speculated about for some months on the TrueHoop Network blog that has long been called Hornets247 (but is now considering new avian-type names).

Reportedly the New Orleans Hornets will indeed change their name to the Pelicans.

Pelicans. It's not a normal kind of a name for an NBA team. It's not tough-sounding. It's very specific. It will be taken as ironic.

And maybe for all of that ... it's awesome?

Immediately the TrueHoop Network's back channels were alive with pressing issues and less pressing puns. YouTube videos of pelicans-as-vicious-predators are suddenly numerous and must-watch. Brendan Jackson of CelticsHub is e-mailing things like "if Anthony Davis doesn't win rookie of the year, he should ask himself if he's a PeliCAN or a PeliCAN'T." Clint Peterson of Hardwood Paroxysm is asking "Who had the scoop? And how big is the bill for something like this?"

Meanwhile, Jason Calmes of Hornets247 has been thinking about this stuff for months and agreed to discuss this novel new name.

So ... is this going to work? Can you have an NBA team called the Pelicans?

In the strict sense: If the NBA and owner Tom Benson say so. In the loose sense, yes. Pelicans was a baseball team with a rich history here in New Orleans, extant from 1877 to 1959. Now, that is baseball, and many a moon has passed. But it has worked.

Additionally, there are avian teams all over the place, and even completely made up ones (Lakers ... that's a thing?). The people and their tie to a name "make it," not the extrinsic qualities tied to other things that name represents (the big beaked birds).

And yet, if you put a gun to my head and said: Come up with a funny name for a minor league baseball team I'd say "Pelicans" and I'd worry that it wasn't realistic. Like, what owner would name his team for an unathletic bird noted for how much marine life it can carry in its big mouth?

In terms of specifically dissecting the Pelican and noting its awkwardness, I think that is fair, but I think the qualities of the bird do not necessarily translate into the perception of the team. Magic is not the "sportiest" of names. It's either weak in some sense or cheating (is there a rule against sorcery?), right?

Not to pick on the Magic, of course. The Celtics aren't meant to be pagans. The Knickerbockers don't have people's unmentionable parts in them. Those names are "made" by their legacies. It is the duty of every franchise to build that legacy to overcome all of these, at first, imperfect names. And upon the fanbase. They have to "own it," to use the parlance of our time.

People in New Orleans dislike change, but they love New Orleans. There's nothing like some hate from north of I-10 to get some New Orleanians to love what those "Yankees" hate.

It'll work.

Oh, I fully accept your theorem that people will acclimate to whatever over time. That's the magic of branding. Put that name and logo enough places for long enough and people will wonder how it ever could have been any other way. But that comes later. Today we are not there. This is the early stage, when people get to imagine the owners spit-balling different names. Just for a short period, we get to put ourselves in their shoes and wonder ... did they make the right choice?

So, I do not think so. I think there were better choices. Some of my reasons are the taste of a weirdo, some are more data-based.

Voodoo, I both feel and think, was the best reasonable name. Tom Benson created this brand for his AFL team, and it was the result of a fan vote if I recall. It was among the more popular brands in the AFL, and it was (perhaps I'm biased as season ticket holder) spectacular.

You have been all over this story for months, sifting public records and sharing candidate names including Pelicans as far back as October. When I read Voodoo on that list ... wow. Strong.

The colors were purple, red and black primarily, they had the voodoo dolls, the graveyard, bones and mojo for mascots, and more. It was fantastic, local, recognizable, edgy. Voodoo is currently owned by the new AFL, as Benson folded his team prior the older AFL folding. The Shreveport-Bossier City Battlewings (north Louisiana for those playing the home game) moved here, donning Voodoo garb. This was at least one obstruction to this.

Question: Would it be practical to invade Bossier City to get the name back?

Krewe was another good choice. "Krewe of X" is used to describe the people in parades in many cases (I was Krewe of Endymion after the Super Bowl, for instance). This has clear cultural relevance and built-in mascots, branding, etc. It would be a beacon for those three people who've never heard of Mardi Gras. Krewe of New Orleans ... the party has arrived.

Brass was another good name. It's evocative of Jazz, and was the name of an ECHL team (minor league hockey) here in New Orleans (yes, really) that folded shortly after the Hornets relocation. You can write the branding for it quite easily.

Ooh, brass. Nice. Musical, but also can mean executives. Think about it. Monty and Dell become the Brass brass.

I know, I know, and love puns and portmanteau. ... Punmanteau, if you will. ... Dagger to the heart, Henry, dagger to the heart.

Part of the strength of Pelicans is that Benson has owned the brand for a while. He's had time to think on this. He's made the Saints, a team that he didn't name and whose name is hardly menacing or free from potential problems, into a respected brand coming from days of fans wearing bags on their heads to games. The data shows he's got the means, motive and opportunity to pull this off.

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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