It’s a buildup four years in the making. And a lot has changed since the NBA playoffs last visited New Orleans.
“It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago we were in the playoffs,” season-ticket holder Rod Jackson said last week. “I guess when you think about it, though, it really was.”
Nearly everything about the New Orleans Pelicans’ 8:30 p.m. tipoff against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night is different from the previous time the city hosted the postseason in 2011.
To start, the team is now called the Pelicans, not the Hornets. The players wear red, navy and gold instead of purple and teal.
They play at the Smoothie King Center — no longer known as the New Orleans Arena — a building that has seen $54 million in renovations and has an external skin that emanates an LED display on top of metallic paint rather than boasting the look of a mid-century bathroom.
And the man at the top of the pyramid is owner Tom Benson — as opposed to 2011, when the NBA still held control of the franchise after former owner George Shinn was bought out of his majority stake.
Led on the court by budding superstar Anthony Davis (rather than the exiting Chris Paul), this week is an opportunity the Pelicans and their fans have been waiting for.
“When Mr. Benson purchased the team, we were committed to fulfilling several promises to our fans: new practice facility, arena upgrades/naming rights and putting this team on the path to success,” said Dennis Lauscha, president of the Saints and Pelicans. “Reaching the playoffs is part of the delivery of those promises, and we’re excited to have been able to accomplish that within the first three seasons.”
There are still plenty of postseason familiarities remaining from the franchise’s five previous playoff entries since moving to New Orleans in 2002.
First, as the team tries to climb back from a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-seven series, there will be a T-shirt, featuring the Pelicans’ playoff slogan of “Play On,” waiting for every fan to promote the team’s “Red Out.” Adding to the fanfare, famous New Orleans musicians Trombone Shorty and Irma Thomas will sing the national anthem.
At 7 p.m. Saturday for Game 4, the Pelicans will change to white as their color of choice, once again placing T-shirts on every seat and providing white rally towels at the door.
Both games will be preceded by live entertainment outside of the Smoothie King Center’s main entrance, a pregame party to entice fans to arrive early.
It’s all part of a chance for the Pelicans to gain critical visibility, not only locally but nationally, and create an experience that will help grow the audience and generate interest for years to come.
And while the names and colors have changed, the priority remains winning.
“We’ve been working hard to continue to extend and grow our fan base, and playoffs help to excite the more casual fans,” Lauscha said. “Our fan base is a passionate and dedicated one. We really hope to see the fans who have watched a few games and maybe been to a few home games here and there to be the ones that are full-on Pelicans fans after this season.
“Winning is two-thirds of the fan experience, and this playoff appearance is just the first step in what we hope to accomplish.”