(Horrifying actual photo of Pierre courtesy of Caitlin Kelly)
During the New Orleans Pelicans’ home opener, a potential star had an inauspicious debut. These were not the spare rookie parts NOP got for swinging Nerlens Noel to Philly -- although, hey, also Jrue Holiday! This was the debut of Pierre the Pelican, fine feathered friend to Crescent City basketball fans and a mascot judged, by the time of his debut, as terrifying and misguided and problematic in a dozen different ways. With sportstwitter “influencers” lighting the way with torches and pitchforks, Pierre, much like Frankenstein’s creature, was chastised, mocked and threatened. Whether Pierre’s story will end as bleakly as that one is not yet known -- although let’s go out on a limb and assume this mascot, scary though he appears from certain angles, isn’t going to actually hurt anyone -- but we might do well to give this strange bird a second chance all the same.
Remember, please, that the Pelicans are a new brand. Gone are the days of the disconnected Hornets of New Orleans with their knife-twisting teal and purple unis, hearkening back to the city of Charlotte. These are the Pelicans now, and Charlotte will be re-rebranded as the Hornets starting next season; RIP Bobcats, I guess.
Creating a team -- and, with it, a look and an identity and everything else -- is not easy work, and we ought not expect that it will look or be perfect. It’s easy for me to write that I would like to see the Pelicans uniforms adorned with a larger, script “New Orleans” for road games and a larger, script “Pelicans” for the home games -- and I would -- but I’m not going to mock up those uniforms by way of comparison, and anyway why would anyone care what I think. (For the who-cares record: I like the colors and the nickname just fine.)
Is Pierre a perfect mascot? No, but there’s no such thing as a perfect mascot -- well, except for Jaxson de Ville and Bango -- but Pierre is a start.
That is, literally, he just started being a mascot, and we have no way of knowing how well he’ll do his job -- which is amusing children, remember, by dunking off a penny-farthing or doing some lite magic tricks or whatever -- just yet. Maybe it’s the fact that Pierre is explicitly for kids that makes all the gang-tackling cynicism around him seem so strange. Look, I sincerely get why it’s hilarious to photoshop some dead-eyed bird man into pictures of current events and GIFs of horror films, but isn’t that what Chris Andersen is for? This is like draining the barrel before you shoot the fish -- the fish are also already dead -- and anyway it misses a bigger point.
Pierre, and the Pelicans rebrand, is a bold step where many franchises and owners would have kowtowed to the vanilla norms and demands of ROI and “synergistic marketing potential.” This mascot is ugly and strange, but he is at least not some round-peg, square-hole “Brooklyn Knight” in the hands of Mikhail Prokhorov and a dozen millionaire marketers and in no way shape or form the sort of acid-fueled, cyclops-strangling-a-unicorn nightmare of imagined mass appeal that the Olympic mascots typically are. In other words, at least he’s weird.
Maybe that’s the root of this, that Pierre is something unexpected and ungainly. But, also, have you seen real pelicans? They’re funny looking. They have massive leathery pouches that they hide under their lower bills. Even when they are microseconds away from delivering a swooping death from above to various darting fish they look ridiculous, their wings tucked into 90-degree angles and bills agape.
Granted, none of them sport yellow and blue feathers, none have garish, clown-red beaks, and they all can blink. But real-life pelicans are also smelly (like all birds) and can’t really dance and definitely can’t dunk and wouldn’t do much to enhance a kid’s NBA game experience. This mascot, a weird animal for a weird and wonderful city, might yet pull that off. Pierre, put on R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” and soar -- soar like your awkward, but deadly, namesake.