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Hornets to Become the Pelicans? Dear NOLA, Blame Utah

The city of New Orleans has been forced to suffer many indignities when it comes to sports. Whether it was the long period of disastrous play by the "Ain'ts," so bad that fans came to games at the Super Dome with paper bags over their heads; or the fact that the team currently known as the Hornets essentially went bankrupt under the poor ownership of George Shinn after moving the team there from Charlotte and abandoning it to be managed by the NBA. But the source of the greatest injustice perpetuated on NOLA, Hurricane Katrina notwithstanding, can be found in Salt Lake City.

As someone who grew up in Houston watching the Rockets, it's almost a birthright that I hate the Utah Jazz, but when I read Thursday morning that the New Orleans Hornets were planning on changing their name to the Pelicans (yes, the freaking Pelicans!), that was it for me. I'm not a fan of the Hornets, nor do I have any ties to New Orleans, but the enemy of my enemy and all that.

You see, the Utah Jazz, if you were unaware, were once the New Orleans Jazz before they were uprooted and moved to Salt Lake City in 1979, a very rough time for sports in the Queen City. Moving the team may have been a financial necessity, but keeping the name and the team's Mardi Gras color scheme in Utah was not and should be anathema to NOLA.

There was no shortage of controversy over the Jazz name moving to the home of the Mormons, who themselves had only a year earlier changed their own policy that prevented blacks from being priests and relegated them to second-class citizens in the church at large. Since jazz music was conjured on the streets of New Orleans in the early 20th century, thanks to the diverse mixture of cultures and prevalence of freed African slaves, it was like a slap in the face to the people of the city that not only would they not be able to retain the name if the NBA returned, which it did in 2002, but that the city that would continue using the name was essentially built by a religion with deeply racist roots.

Never mind the fact that New Orleans Jazz makes total sense and the Utah Jazz makes about as much sense as, oh, I don't know, the Los Angeles Lakers. The former Minneapolis Lakers, its name owed to the Land of 1000 Lakes state motto, retained the name after its move to LA in 1960.

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Of course, we have our own experience with that in the Houston Oilers. When owner Bud Adams was basically laughed all the way to Tennessee by former mayor Bob Lanier because he wanted the city to help him build a $200-plus-million retractable-roof stadium on the east side of downtown -- yeah, who would be stupid enough to do that? -- he took the name Oilers with him. And, as if to rub salt in Houston's wound, when the team changed its name to the Titans, he refused to allow the Oilers name to return to Houston when awarded a new team. Even the hated Art Model agreed to allow Cleveland to keep the name Browns when he moved the team to Baltimore in 1996.

It is the reason why team names should remain in the cities where they began. If that were the case, the Jazz would be in New Orleans instead of the city being forced to endure yet another indignity in the Pelicans. I get that it's the state bird, but it doesn't exactly inspire, well, anything, even if they do kinda look like a pterodactyl. At least they'll be changing the uniform colors as well from that awful teal that migrated from Charlotte.

So, NOLA, if you want to blame someone, blame Utah. I certainly do.

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