NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Hornets will announce plans to change their name to the Pelicans next season, according to people familiar with the decision.
The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity on Wednesday because an announcement of the proposed name change and color scheme of blue, gold and red is scheduled on Thursday. Hornets owner Tom Benson has said since buying the NBA club last spring that he wanted a new name representing New Orleans and Louisiana.
The brown pelican is the state bird and has become symbolic of efforts to restore Louisiana's fragile coast, which has been hit hard by the 2010 BP oil spill and erosion from major storms including Hurricane Katrina, which displaced the Hornets to Oklahoma City for two seasons from 2005-07.
Benson owns the rights to the name Pelicans, which was used for decades by a former minor league baseball team in New Orleans. The Hornets are New Orleans' second NBA team. The first was the Jazz, which played in the Big Easy from 1974-79 before moving to Utah, and current owners of the club have indicated on multiple occasions they had no intention of giving up that name so New Orleans could have it back.
The Hornets were founded in Charlotte in 1988 by then-owner George Shinn, who kept that name when he moved the team to New Orleans in 2002. Shinn sold the Hornets to the NBA in December 2010, and the league spent more than a year looking for a buyer who would keep the team in New Orleans long term.
Last April, Benson, who also has owned the NFL's New Orleans Saints since 1985, agreed to purchase the club for $338 million. As part of the purchase, he agreed to a lease of the state-owned New Orleans Arena through 2024, ending several years of speculation that the club would be moved again to another city seeking an NBA franchise.
Since Benson took over the club, the contracts of general manager Dell Demps and head coach Monty Williams have been extended, and the team has seen an influx of new, young talent including first overall draft choice Anthony Davis and 10th overall pick Austin Rivers.
Now the hope is that the club's young nucleus will turn New Orleans into an NBA contender in the years to come, and do so with a new look and new name which speak to the region's fans.