Welcome to the Greatest Moment series at Last Word On Pro Basketball, where we’ll present to you each NBA team’s greatest moment of the 21st century. From draft lottery luck, to a franchise-changing trade, to the sweet taste of a championship, every NBA team has had its own special moment to look back on.
Greatest New Orleans Pelicans Moment of the 21st Century: 2012 Draft Luck
Basketball in New Orleans
The history of basketball in New Orleans should start with Pete Maravich. Pistol Pete was one of the most exciting and marketable college basketball players of all time. The Pistol electrified arenas around the country and built a reputation that drew crowds wherever he played while at LSU. After a short stint with the Atlanta Hawks, an expansion team in New Orleans named the Jazz, sent a package including players and multiple picks to secure the player they believed would fill seats and take the team to the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Jazz, and Pistol Pete, the team never found the financial and basketball success they hoped for. The team’s owner moved the Jazz to Utah, the least Jazzy state in the country, and New Orleans was once again a football town.
The Hornets Bring Basketball Back to New Orleans
Similar to the situation the New Orleans Jazz found themselves in, the Charlotte Hornets were struggling with revenue. By the early 2000’s, the Hornets’ owner was no longer willing to take on financial losses to prop up an NBA franchise. After losing out on a bid to move the team to Memphis, the Hornets ultimately settled on New Orleans as their relocation city. Basketball was back in New Orleans. Lil’ Wayne said it best on his episode of MTV cribs, “Ya’ll can try us this year, we ready. Anybody, ya’ll wanna put some money up, anybody.”
Skip ahead to the 5:13 mark to see Wayne’s diamond Hornets chain.
Early Playoff Appearances, Chris Paul, and Hurricane Katrina
The NBA was officially back in the Crescent City. The New Orleans Hornets would make the playoffs in each of its first two seasons. After a move to the Western Conference and multiple injuries, the Hornets would finish the 2004-2005 season with an 18-64 record but would have a great pick in a draft that would land them a future NBA star. Chris Paul was selected to be the point guard of the future but would witness tragedy before playing a game.
The Hornets were looking like they were poised to take on the league, but then, Hurricane Katrina decimated the city. I’m not from New Orleans and I wasn’t living in the city when Katrina hit. It’s my opinion that unless you fit into one of those two categories, you have no business writing or commenting on the tragedy and struggle that the city and it’s citizens experienced during this time. With that in mind, I’ll keep my comments brief. The horrors that the people of New Orleans experienced are unimaginable and can never be put into proper context.
Katrina left destruction and devastation. It also sent the New Orleans Hornets into an uncertain and potentially lost future. The team, along with its young point guard, were forced to spend the season in Oklahoma City. The people of Oklahoma welcomed the Hornets with open arms and helped alleviate many of the challenges a temporary move would cause.
Chris Paul would quickly develop into an elite point guard and also became an elite advocate and voice for the city of New Orleans. This was the start of a journey that would lead to three playoff appearances, a canceled blockbuster trade, a successful blockbuster trade, and then the greatest moment for the New Orleans franchise of the 21st Century, winning the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery.
Winning the Draft Lottery
Anthony Davis was the main attraction of the 2012 NBA draft. Davis dominated in his lone season with the Kentucky Wildcats. Playing under John Calipari at Kentucky naturally, results in a media frenzy. Davis added to the attention with stories of his high school growth spurt. A young point guard from Chicago lacking offers from major D1 programs grew into a 6’10” PF/C with the ball handling and shooting skills that the guard had worked tirelessly on.
With Monty Williams representing the team, the Hornets leaped ahead three spots to get the first pick.
New Orleans wouldn’t need the full 5 minutes of on-the-clock time to know who they were drafting. Davis would become the new face of the New Orleans Hornets and soon to be New Orleans Pelicans.
A Young Superstar Emerges
It didn’t take long for Davis to prove his worth to the city and the league. Davis put up impressive numbers as a rookie. Unfortunately, injuries and a monster rookie season from Damian Lillard prevented Davis from taking home Rookie of the Year honors. During his second season, Davis cemented himself as an NBA star and the player that would bring New Orleans back to the playoffs.
Return to the Playoffs
Davis led the Pelicans to an 8th seed in the 2014-2015 season. Unfortunately, the Pelicans would face a juggernaut in the Golden State Warriors. The Pelicans would ultimately be swept in the series, but did manage to keep things close and even took the Warriors to overtime in Game 3. This is also the game that the two biggest sports figures in New Orleans crossed paths in an unlikely way. After a missed shot from Ryan Anderson, Davis attempted to grab the rebound and took a slight tumble over the cameramen. Sitting under the basket was the most recognizable athlete in the city, Drew Brees.
A New Orleans Superstar Connection
Brees joined the city of New Orleans in an uncertain time because of the damage caused by Katrina. When the Superdome reopened after it suffered significant damage during the Hurricane, Brees was the one that led the beloved Saints back onto the field.
In a city looking for relief, getting to enjoy watching their Saints again brought joy and hope to everyone there. Eventually, Brees would bring a Super Bowl Championship to New Orleans and would become one of the city’s most beloved citizens.
Davis goes for the rebound, falls down right in front of Brees, and the two provide the perfect analogy for the spirit of New Orleans. Davis is poised to be the superstar that represents the city as Brees begins to enter the twilight years of his career. Winning the 2012 NBA draft lottery matters because it gave New Orleans the best available college player. It could turn out to mean so much more for the city and franchise as Davis continues to grow.
An Uncertain Future
New Orleans is a city that has faced a tragedy that most can’t imagine or come close to comprehending. It is a city that has been forced to rebuild itself and pick up it’s own pieces multiple times. This is one of the defining characteristics of the people of New Orleans. They love their city and will always find the strength to pick themselves up and lend a helping hand.
Anthony Davis is positioned to be a perennial all star, Defensive Player of the Year contender, and an MVP candidate. With Davis in New Orleans, the Pelicans will remain relevant and in the hunt for the playoffs. There’s no shortage of unfounded rumors of a Celtics trade for Davis or the Pelicans moving to another city. Regardless of what the future holds, the Pelicans still have one of the most valuable young players in the league. With Davis on the team, the future of the Pelicans, and basketball in New Orleans remains bright.