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Jul 13, 2020

We point our GPS coordinates this week to the endearingly enigmatic city of New Orleans, for an overdue look into the Big Easy’s chaotic pro sports franchise history – with Historic New Orleans Collection writer (and recovering sports scribe) Nick Weldon (“A Streetcar Named Basketball”).

Although a mainstay of baseball’s minor and Negro leagues since the dawn of the sport’s professional era in the late 1800s (including Louis Armstrong’s well-outfitted, attention-grabbing, but largely lamentable 1931 barnstorming “Secret Nine” club), Louisiana’s largest city has been considered more of a football town over the last half-century – especially after the arrival of the NFL Saints in 1967.

But it’s the pursuit (and occasional success) of pro basketball that has captured the fancy of local sports entrepreneurs most in the intervening decades – providing the Crescent City with some of its most fascinating, yet oft-forgotten sporting exploits:

  • The American Basketball Association’s Buccaneers (1967-70) – a charter member, who came within one game of winning the league’s first-ever title, before moving to Memphis two seasons later;
  • The National Basketball Association’s Jazz (1974-79) – an expansion franchise known mostly for the dazzling on-court wizardry of local LSU hero “Pistol” Pete Maravich, and not much else;
  • The Women’s Professional Basketball League’s Pride (1979-81) – ready-made to take advantage of the region’s strong female collegiate roots and presumptive US women’s success at the (eventually boycotted) 1980 Olympics; AND
  • The arrival of the NBA’s Hornets (now Pelicans) in 2002 – finally cementing the long-term viability of pro basketball in New Orleans.

Weldon helps us dig in to all of these points on NOLA’s pro hoops history curve – but also some tantalizing tangents like the one-year incarnation of the USFL’s New Orleans Breakers, and even the “Sun Belt” Nets of the original mid-1970s World Team Tennis.