Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
Let's go Pels!
It's official: the New Orleans Hornets will become the New Orleans Pelicans for the 2013 NBA season.
According to Yahoo News, Saints owner Tom Benson has been looking to change the name since he bought the team in April. The New Orleans Brass and the New Orleans Krewe (a reference to the city's mardi gras parade) had also been discussed. (Hornets was a name inherited when Nola picked up the Charlotte franchise in 2002.)
Ultimately, Benson settled on the Pelicans. This deep-billed beast is the official bird of Louisiana.
Naturally, folks are pretty riled up on all sides of the debate. There has been a good deal of misfired mockery, as well as some praise, courtesy of Deadspin -- "Fuck You, Pelicans Are Awesome" -- which calls them "the world's best-designed killing machine." (It's a rousing defense worth a read, unlike ESPN's unfunny tongue-in-cheek "endorsement.")
The quest to brand a city with such a complex cultural personality was never going to be a slam dunk, if you'll pardon the phrase. As Emily Badger wrote in June:
New Orleans "loathes those things that aren’t authentic," says writer Brett Michael Dykes, who's better known locally as the Cajun Boy. "That’s one of the things that so many people love about New Orleans, it’s one of the most real places you will ever visit."
And so we submit to Tom Benson that it is quite possible to screw this up in New Orleans in a way that’s not possible when you’re branding a sports franchise in, say, Reno or Kansas City. These people are absolutely not going to accept anything that’s boring, camp, or imperfect.
In other words, worse than a team name that doesn't sell would have been one that sold a cheapened image of a city that's easy to stereotype. Not that a generic abstraction like the "Heat" or "Thunder" would have been much better.
If Pelicans doesn't strike your fancy at first listen, consider this: the most successful franchises in the NBA and MLB are called the Lakers and the Yankees. Try to think about those names anew -- they're quite silly. Los Angeles doesn't even have any lakes. Salt Lake City certainly doesn't have any jazz. It's amazing what a little time will do for a team name.
Case in point: not one but two of the most respected franchises in baseball are named after socks.
Top image via Deadspin.