On Monday, March 14th the struggling New Orleans Pelicans were set to face the unstoppable Golden State Warriors. Boy wonder and Golden State point guard, Stephen Curry, was again the center of attention. As San Jose Mercury News reports, "On Oct. 31 at New Orleans [the last time the teams met], Curry scored 53 points as the Warriors defeated the Pelicans for the second time in four days.” On the official Pelicans fan blog, The Bird Writes, the day’s lead story depicted the team’s fuzzy mascot, Pierre The Pelican, brought to his knees on the basketball court. This is the revealing portrait of Pierre, who must watch as his 13th place Pelicans face down another impossibly good basketball team.
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The matchup was played in California, at the Warrior's Oracle Arena. To avoid mascot altercations, it is customary for the visiting team's mascot to stay home. The game started out close; the teams matched each other shot-for-shot, miss-for-miss. It reached half-time and there still seemed to be hope for the Pelicans. This hope was soon vaporized as Stephen Curry took over; the Warriors pulled ahead by 10 and then 20 points. Oh, how must Pierre feel! The 7-foot Pelican is likely sitting alone in a deserted party suite in the cavernous Smoothie King Arena, in a city that could hardly care less about the team, sobbing softly to the media interviews with his losing team, a veritable post-game torture ritual. What else can he do?
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If you find yourself in New Orleans walking on the diminutive block that calls itself "Dave Dixon Drive", you are there for one of two reasons, the thing on your right or the thing on your left. On your right is the former "New Orleans Arena," now Smoothie King Center, the home of the Pelicans. It seats about 17,000 people. As the sun sets on New Orleans, the Smoothie King Arena is engulfed in shadow. The shadow is cast by the thing on your left, the home of the New Orleans Saints,the infamous Superdome.
In August of 2005, the Superdome became the picture of governmental inaction and mismanagement as 30,000 New Orleans residents were herded into the battered arena. For days, New Orleanians were closer to each others' pain than they could have ever imagined.
Across Dave Dixon Dr., a mere 40-feet, there is only an illusion of closeness. The Pelicans changed their name from the “Hornets” in 2014. The decision was announced as an effort to make the team "mean something" to the city. Unfortunately, the team means very little to this city. As Pelican’s fan @jdbillo tweeted, “BREAKING: New Orleans Pelicans fans suffer season ending injury. They will be done for the remainder of the season." This is a community that has been ripped apart by weather and governmental mismanagement. In the midst of that forced proximity of the Superdome and afterwards, this is a community that has built itself back together. The Smoothie King Center remains an afterthought.
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This team and it's home, the Smoothie King Center, may be forever doomed to stand in the shadow of the Superdome, an unwilling monument to the city's suffering. As the Pelican's fight desperately for fans, it seems clear that what they really crave is relevance. As Pierre waits patiently for his Pelicans to return from a long and hard road-trip defined by lopsided losses, he might do well to reflect on his team’s relationship to New Orleans: to emerge from the shadow of the Superdome, it will take more than a flashy re-branding campaign. In a city that has seen basketball teams come and go numerous times, fans need to be proud when their team wears "New Orleans" on their jerseys at Away games. Maybe the Pelicans just need to start winning but winning will be a means to an end. Winning will reflect the comeback of a city largely dropped from headlines since the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Winning will be more than the numbers, it will be relevant to the city's struggle. Like New Orleans, the Pelicans must rebuild. *end *
Sources (all accessed March 14/15th except where noted):
March 14th ESPN Game Broadcast of Pelicans @ Golden State
March 14th The Bird Writes Cover Article: http://www.thebirdwrites.com/2016/3/14/11083308/new-orleans-pelicans-lack-identity-viewership-anthony-davis
Anthony Davis Post Game Interview: http://www.nba.com/pelicans/video/teams/pelicans/2016/03/15/1458021412943-Davis_031516.mp4-361606
Head Coach Anthony Gentry Post Game Interview:
Party Seats at Smoothie King Arena:
Name Change Announcement: