The New Orleans Pelicans were well on their way to making a push for the 2020 NBA Playoffs when suddenly the COVID-19 pandemic brought a halt to all sporting activities. In the NBA’s effort to salvage the season and resume play, the New Orleans Pelicans and elected officials looked to throw an assist to all of the league’s teams. According to sources with the team and local government, New Orleans executives, along with state and city officials put in a diligent effort to present a very strong bid to act as one of the cities in a multiple-city campus/bubble plan.
An NBA Board of Governor’s conference call on Thursday settled most of the specifics. By the end of July, 22 of the league’s teams will descend on Orlando to finish the season and crown a champion. New Orleans executives had a significant voice in the room concerning the location and formatting logistics of the new schedule, not just on matters concerning Zion Williamson and the format.
Executives for the New Orleans Pelicans pushed hard for the New Orleans hosting idea. When I reached out to the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans Senior Vice President of Communications Greg Bensel about the story, he replied, “As the NBA looked to re-open, they did their due diligence and research on best potential in-market planning and what could cities and arenas pull off safely. So in many markets with city and state restrictions it was going to be impossible, hence the bubble concept” and the following New Orleans bid.
The New Orleans plan included the Hyatt in downtown New Orleans as the campus transit hub and the Smoothie King Center as the game site. Even though New Orleans was an initial coronavirus hotspot, the city flattened the curve quickly and had success in mitigating the virus. The team’s plan had the full support of Governor John Bel Edwards, Mayor LaToya Cantrelle, and Gayle Benson. According to a source with the team not allowed to discuss the failed bid, it was a “bid to help save our tourism and promote that New Orleans was back and ready for business.”
New Orleans eventually lost out to the Orlando bid. The Disney resort is home to the ESPN Wide World of Sports sprawl of a complex. The ABC/ESPN connections led to a comfortability that could not be overcome by the New Orleans bid. The Disney complex also offers what is essentially a closed-off private city. So attractive is the site, Orlando has been a proposed host for several professional sporting leagues.
Major League Soccer will play a tournament in Orlando this July. The NWSL will return to action in June. The NHL will have Phase 2 practices this week. As it is understood, the NBA examined several options in the effort to resume play. The league office spent weeks narrowing down what cities and arenas could potentially host games. New Orleans was a finalist in the process but lost out to the Orlando bid. Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation President Jay Cicero acted as the team’s liaison with the NBA league office.
GNOSF President Cicero stated, “The NBA has significant trust in Mrs. Benson, the Pelicans and our organization, having gained significant experience and knowledge after hosting 3 NBA All-Star games in a record 9 years, most recently in 2017. For New Orleans to be considered and trusted by the NBA is an honor, and a testament to our strong relationship as well as how far the State and City have come since March 11.”
The easiest part of the schedule was in front of the New Orleans Pelicans but now those games are lost. Having somewhat of a home-court advantage going forward would have helped ease that pain for fans, even if they were not allowed to attend games. Now, the team must trek to Disney World to make an abbreviated playoff push with a healthy Zion Williamson.
A bid for home cooking fell short, but it does show the New Orleans Pelicans and city are planning for better days and looking to lead the way, together. Those invovled with the process feel the effort put into this bid counts for something. The initiative to put this bid together will lead the team and city towards more positive engagement going forward.