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Relocated NBA Teams: The New Orleans Jazz

The New Orleans Jazz were a basketball team that played in the NBA from 1974 to 1979. Today, the franchise is known as the Utah Jazz following their relocation in 1979. The franchise was officially admitted to the NBA as an expansion franchise on June 7, 1974, becoming the city’s first pro basketball franchise since the New Orleans Buccaneers of the ABA folded in 1970. The name Jazz was selected following a fans contest and is a tribute to New Orleans city’s status as the capital of Jazz music. They wore a gold, green and purple strip which matched the theme of the New Orleans’ annual Mardi Gras Festival. They played their home games at the Municipal Auditorium during their first season before moving to the newly built Louisiana Superdome in 1975.

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The Jazz were far from a successful team. During their four years of action they did not make the NBA playoffs a single time. They opened their competitive chapter with a loss away to the New York Knicks on October 17th 1974. In a sign of things to come, they lost their next four games and had to wait till November 10th for their first win, beating the Portland Trail Blazers by a single point. After recovering from a 6-44 record, they would finish the season last in the NBA with a 23-59 record. They improved marginally during the 1975/76 season as they finished third with a 38-44 record, before taking a step back to finish with a 35-47 record for fifth the following season. A 39-43 record in 1977/78 season saw the Jazz finish the season in fifth place but any signs of improvement were short lived as they returned to the league basement the following season with a pitiable 26-56 record.

Despite the Jazz’s mediocre play, they boasted one of the leagues’ greatest talents in guard Pete Maravich. Maravich signed from the Atlanta Hawks and immediately became a fans favorite not only for his impressive scoring numbers but also for his showmanship. He made outrageous shots from all over the field and could never make a straightforward pass (usually it was from behind the back or through his legs), preferring to make every aspect of his game as entertaining as possible. He wore a pair of sweat socks to every game which he believed were his good-luck charm and they seemed to be always in need of a wash. He had a genuine love for New Orleans and stuck with them throughout despite the prospects of playing at a club where his talents could land him some silverware. He was one of the biggest advocates against the team’s relocation to Utah in 1979 but when it was obvious the team would move, he promised that any success he brought the team, wherever they would be playing would be dedicated to the city of New Orleans.

Why were the New Orleans Jazz Relocated?

Despite being one of the league’s underdogs, the Jazz attracted lots of fans to their home games, largely driven by the presence of Pete Maravich. The team’s undoing mainly arose from high taxation by city and state departments. Also, the NBA was at a time where corporate sponsorship was becoming an ever more important factor in teams’ financial wellbeing. The Jazz however were unable to attract corporate support from local firms and was increasingly falling behind other NBA teams in this regard. The team’s owners finally decided it was time to move elsewhere and Salt Lake City was immediately mooted as a possible destination due to the success of the ABA’s Utah Stars. Following the conclusion of the 1978/79 season, the team packed up and headed to Salt Lake City despite widespread opposition from fans. The team retained the Jazz nickname despite their new home’s lack of a Jazz heritage, something that outraged New Orleans residents even more. New Orleans would occasionally host the Atlanta Hawks following the departure of the Jazz and the Superdome was the stage on which the limelight first landed on Michael Jordan who was then a freshman in North Carolina. However, it would take another 23 years before the NBA finally returned permanently to New Orleans as the Charlotte Hornets moved in to become the New Orleans Hornets in 2002.

New Orleans Jazz Notable Players

Pete Maravich G 1974-1979

Rich Kelly C/PF 1975-1979

Nate Williams SG 1974-1978

Aaron James PF 1974-1979

Freddie Boyd PG 1975-1978

James McElroy SG 1975-1979

Gail Goodrich G 1976-1979

Louie Nelson G 1974-1976

Henry Bibby PG 1974-1976

Ron Behagen PF/C 1975-1977

Bud Stallworth SG 1974-1977

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