When the New Orleans’ Hornets were presented with an opportunity to rebrand and rename the Crescent City NBA franchise, they had a rich palette of choices (Krewe, Brass, Cajuns, Blues among others). And while a few of us initially scratched our heads at the choice of ‘Pelicans’, a closer look reveals why the moniker was the most meaningful and authentic decision they could have made.
In 2002, the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans , keeping the team name despite there being no special link between New Orleans and that particular species of bee. New Orleans remained the Hornets until 2013, when a 2nd Charlotte team, then called the Bobcats, decided they wanted to bring the Hornets name back to Charlotte Tom Benson and his daughter Rita Benson LeBlanc, co-owners of both the New Orleans NBA team and the NFL’s Saints, decided to oblige the Charlotte ownership, led by Michael Jordan. This meant they needed a new name. The Bensons went with the Pelicans. Why?
According to a club statement in January 2013, the Pelicans name was chosen because “it symbolized Louisiana’s most pressing need for coastal restoration and wildlife conservation.” The health and sustainability of the region’s wetlands, recovering from the devastation of Katrina in 2005 and the BP Oil Spill in 2010, thus became a cornerstone of the Pelicans’ community relations platforms. Tom Benson said ” The Pelican will…not only be a name of a sports franchise but it will also be the face of the continued recovery of our region.”
As owners of the NFL’s Saints, the Bensons had a leading role in the recovery from the early days after Katrina, as they took a forward-looking, sustainability-focused approach to the rebuilding of the New Orleans Superdome. Per Ms. Benson-LeBlanc, in an interview with Bloomberg in August, 2013, “Post-Katrina, we re-skinned the entire building by using energy efficient materials. This…made a dramatic impact to the bottom line.”
Pelicans’ management has built upon what the Saints started, employing a mix of hands-on cleanup work, PR and lobbying, education and fund-raising.
Oil slicks threaten all wildlife, including pelicans. So the team, when it was still named the Hornets, took an active role in the cleanup of the BP oil spill. “Planet Rebound” (great name, no?) deploys club employees, including players, in the affected wetlands, rescuing and cleaning oil-covered animals. That assistance continues today, 4 years after the event.
- The Pelicans and Audubon Nature Institute paired up on an environmental education initiative in schools and in the community, focused on the preservation of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands.
- The club and Greater New Orleans, Inc., (GNO) have teamed up to make sure funds from RESTORE Act, the federal trust fund that provides resources to BP Spill-affected areas, continue to be directed to the Louisiana wetlands.
- GNO and the Pelicans are also working together to bring Pelicans players to visit the coastal wetlands and help with restoration efforts.
- Toast For The Coast is the high profile, annual fundraising event which supports the activities described above. Fans interact with the players and coaching staff who, in turn, share their experiences in the wetlands.
The Pelicans are one of 12 NBA Teams who are members of the Green Sports Alliance. The NBA is also a member as a league and one of the most active, having held ‘NBA Green Week‘ in conjunction with Earth Month (April) for the past 5 years.
While the Hornets/Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s weaker sisters on the court since they moved from Charlotte, they are at the top of the ladder in their commitment in words and action on sustainability.
Led by emerging superstar Anthony Davis, the Pelicans are on the upswing, but off the court, the Pelicans are already a shining example of the power of the Green & Sports.
PHOTO CREDITS: Nola.com