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Hornets to Pelicans: Breaking Down the Worst Name Change in NBA History

Last week the New Orleans Hornets made it official that they’ll become the Pelicans next year by showcasing their new logo, completing what it is likely the worst name change of all time.

Admittedly, moving to New Orleans from Charlotte in 2002 and keeping the name the Hornets didn’t make much sense. That said, the Hornets is an established basketball brand and an acceptable name. The franchise didn’t surrender the name back to Charlotte when the Bobcats were created a few years later, but that is likely where the Hornets name will land in a year’s time.

Rebranding your franchise with a new name is a complicated process. It costs an organization roughly $3 million and takes a good bit of paperwork to make the deal go through unless the league is urgent to make the change happen. The league’s role in all this is important as they have a big say in what their teams are named, and as I sat and watched the Hornets battle the Lakers last night, I couldn’t help but stew a bit over the fact they would let Pelicans happen.


Reasons to rename a franchise vary and in some cases it is warranted. Renaming the Bobcats makes sense due to the organization’s lack of success under that name and the fact that Charlotte had an established basketball tradition under the moniker of the Hornets.

Washington rebranded the Bullets to the Wizards in 1997 due to the disturbing crime rate in the nation’s capital at that time. Owner Abe Pollin liked the name Wizards and a public contest to rename the team brought his desire to fruition. That case, although somewhat ridiculous and still facing calls to go back to the Bullets, was at least understandable because Pollin felt the word bullet had a negative connotation considering the social issues at that time facing the city which the team calls home. But Pelicans? Why?

Owner Tom Benson made it clear when he bought the Hornets that he wanted a name change, supposedly to reflect more accurately the culture and flavor of New Orleans. The team immediately began sifting through team names and has said they looked at over 100 names. A hundred names and the best was Pelicans? Really? If so, I have to wonder what were the other suggestions? Hurricanes? Levees? Flashers? How much more poorly could they have rolled off the tongue than Pelicans?

The marketability of a team name is something that has to be kept in mind. Pelicans is not a particularly catchy name like the Heat or Magic, Lakers or Trail Blazers. It’s not a name that can be shortened like Knicks or Mavs, T-Wolves or Cavs. What would you call them? The Cans? The Pels? Not likely, and the team colors will be lost in favor of a much more bland and predictable red, blue and gold that sort of resembles a different configuration of Cleveland’s colors.

Ultimately, the decision is done, but how could this regrettable mistake have been avoided?


Many would say it’s not the NBA’s place to step in and tell the franchises what to do when it comes to their names? Well, it’s okay for the league to step in and veto trades that two parties have agreed to and it’s okay for the league to hand down suspensions for sometimes minor infractions and to implement a dress code policy for its players when they aren’t on the court. So why then, is it not okay for the league to tell a franchise they can’t use a certain name when that name could be seen as negative to the marketability of not only the team and its players, but the league as a whole? Does anyone really think the Pelicans is a good name?

The best way out of this conundrum was for the league to tell the Utah Jazz to finally face facts and admit that jazz music has about as much significance in Utah’s history as Scandanavian culture has in the bayou. The Hornets name should move to Charlotte returning that tradition to its rightful home and the Jazz name should return to the city that is the reason that name exists, New Orleans.

What would the Jazz then be called? Truthfully, I don’t know. Utah is the Beehive state, how about the Swarm? The Utah Killer Bees or any other generic name that would ultimately produce a moniker that has more to do with Utah than Jazz. Jazz goes home to New Orleans and order is restored to the world.

Watching Chris Webber laugh hysterically just saying Pelicans and looking at that ridiculous logo during last night’s broadcast on NBA TV, I couldn’t help but laugh too. Unfortunately, that is what is going to happen to New Orleans, they’re the laughing stock of the league no matter how fun their team is to watch, no matter how young and hip their players are. Pelicans in nature are very cool, but on a basketball court, not so much.


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