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Relocated NBA Teams: The New Orleans Hornets

The New Orleans Hornets was a basketball team that played in the NBA from 2002 to 2012. Technically, the Hornets and the New Orleans Pelicans are the same franchise but are considered separate because the Pelicans gave up the Hornets name and history to the Charlotte Hornets in 2012. The New Orleans Hornets began when the Charlotte Hornets relocated from North Carolina to New Orleans and changed their name. The Hornets moniker had been adopted during their genesis in Charlotte back in 1985. During the American Revolutionary War, Charlotte had been a center of fierce resistance against the British, prompting one British General to refer to it as a “veritable nest of hornets.”

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The Hornets were by no means a successful team. Although they made the playoffs severally, they did not foray deep enough for a realistic shot at silverware. The Hornets finished the 2002/03 season, their first in New Orleans with a 47-35 record which saw them qualify for the playoffs. However, they were eliminated in the first round by the Philadelphia 76ers. The next season, they had a record of 41-41 and were again eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, this time by the Miami Heat. In 2004/05, the Hornets had an unfortunate brush with injuries and finished with an 18-64 record, the worst in franchise history. In the 2005 offseason, the Hornets went through mixed fortunes as Hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans and the team signed Chris Paul, one of the team’s stars in subsequent years. Playing at the Ford Center in Oklahoma, the franchise, now known as New Orleans/Oklahoma Hornets missed out on the 2005/06 and 2006/07 playoffs. They returned to New Orleans for the 2007/08 season and had their best ever season with a 56-26 record. They eliminated the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs but were downed by defending NBA champs San Antonio Spurs. In 2008/09 the Hornets had a 49-33 record but were vanquished by the Denver Nuggets in five games in the playoffs first round. After finishing last in the division in 2009/2010, the Hornets would make the playoffs for a final time in 2011 but unsurprisingly lost by 4 games to 2 to the Lakers in the playoffs.

The Hornets’ survival during Hurricane Katrina is a story of courage and encouragement to many. On August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina tore through Eastern Louisiana wreaking havoc in many urban neighborhoods including New Orleans. The Hornets’ New Orleans Arena was badly damaged, forcing the team to find temporary shelter while repairs went on. Oklahoma’s Ford Arena was picked as a suitable arena and the Hornets moved there under a deal that would see the team christened New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. The team was an instant hit with fan turnout rising over 75% above the levels in New Orleans. Team owners even considered a permanent stay but after extending their stay for one year, the Hornets permanently returned to New Orleans. The great reception afforded to the Hornets by Oklahomans persuaded the league to install a team in the city. The struggling Seattle Supersonics was relocated to Oklahoma and became the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Why the New Orleans Hornets Relocated

Towards the end of the 2000s, the Hornets found themselves burdened by a huge wage bill of $77 million which was in fact the largest in the league. In order to balance their books, the team was forced to offload some of their best performers, effectively crippling their on-court product. With few stars to see and little promise in terms of trophies, fans stayed away and the team sunk further into financial mire. Un 2011, the NBA purchased the struggling team from owners George Shinn and Gary Chouest who had been unable to offer any more financial assistance to the team. Attendance continued to be low and only a mass purchase of season tickets by city and state authorities and local businessmen in 2012 prevented the NBA from activating an escape clause that would have seen the team relocate to a new city. In 2012, the NBA sold the team to Tom Benson who immediately set out to rebrand and market the franchise a new. The team was renamed New Orleans Pelicans and relinquished the ‘Hornets’ nickname to its original city of Charlotte where it was adopted by the then Charlotte Bobcats. They also relinquished the team’s history before 2002 effectively cutting ties with their predecessor franchise, the Charlotte Hornets.

New Orleans Hornets Notable Players

Chris Paul 2005-2011

David West PF 2003-2011

P.J. Brown PF 2002-2006

Peja Stojakovic SF 2006-2010

Chris Andersen PF 2004-2008

Jamal Mashburn SF 2002-2004

Tyson Chandler C 2006-2009

Morris Peterson SF/SG 2007-2010

Lee Nailon F 2003-2004

Emeka Okafor C/PF 2009-2012

J.R. Smith SF/SG 2004-2006

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