In January of 2013, the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets announced that the franchise would change its nickname to the Pelicans, Louisiana’s state bird, beginning with the 2013-14 regular season. Scoffing and accusations of lame nicknaming were heard in corners of the nation not well-versed in ornithology. But Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky is knowledgeable about all things winged, and about team nicknames as well.
Bill Littlefield spoke with Petchesky in an interview that originally aired on Jan. 26, 2013.
BL: Why is Pelicans a good nickname for an NBA team?
BP: Because Pelicans is a unique nickname. I was terrified that they’d go with some other fearsome predatory cats—Jaguars or Panthers. But they went with something with some local flavor and that actually stands apart from the usual ‘let’s-sell-merchandise-to-fourth-graders’ naming schemes.
BL: In your Deadspin column of last December, you relate that the pelican only eats meat and may be the world’s perfect killing machine and ‘wants to kill you and everyone you’ve ever cared about.’ I hope that last part is hyperbole.
BP: You know, I’m not actually an ornithologist. I probably should have made that clear. But I have watched some YouTube videos about pelicans, and it seems that killing is the only thing they have on their minds.
BL: Let’s do a little role playing here. I will criticize the pelican nickname and you be the guy who rebuts me. OK, here goes: ‘Oh, a pelican, that’s intimidating. It splashes around in the water and gulps down fish that are just swimming by.’
BP: That’s part of the anti-pelican lobby. That’s not what pelicans do. The brown pelican, which is native to the Gulf Coast, they, like any other bird of prey, will swoop down from above and pull live fish directly out of the water and swallow them whole. If you’re a fish swimming around, you probably don’t want to make fun of pelicans because there might be one above you right at this moment.
BL: In your article you assert that ‘Pelicans work as a team. They give up their own bodies to protect their home court. There’s no way New Orleans will lose a home game.’ But are these qualities really transmittable through a mere nickname?
BP: You have to think there’s something mental behind it. You have to think that team in the locker room, they are going to get their pep talk from their coach, and he’s going to tell them, ‘Go out there and play like a pelican today.’ And you know the team’s not very good right now and if they lose a game, that’s not playing like a pelican.