NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Hornets are moving ahead with plans to change their name to the Pelicans next season, people familiar with the decision said.
The people spoke to The Associated Press Wednesday on condition of anonymity because the Hornets have not announced the name change. The people say that is expected to come Thursday, when club also will unveil the proposed new color scheme of blue, gold and red.
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 NBA would have to approve any name change, but Commissioner David Stern already said during a visit to New Orleans earlier this season that he won’t object to whatever new name Benson might choose because he knows it will be “sensible,” and that the league could expedite the process.
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.
The Hornets were in San Antonio on Wednesday night to play the Spurs, heading into the game with a promising stint of seven victories in their past nine games, but still near the bottom of the Western Conference standings. The recent increase in winning has coincided with the return of high-scoring guard Eric Gordon from a knee injury that sidelined him for most of the first two months of the season.
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 regions fans.