The New Orleans Pelicans had an average attendance of 16,004 last season but most of those tickets sold were empty seats after Anthony Davis demanded a trade. Davis played in front of increasing sparse crowds as the sourness of the season fermented like spoiled Bourbon Street bile.
Like an artistic band director with a point to prove, David Griffin entered the room with different ideas and a fresh sound for the planned, staid second line the national media planned for the New Orleans Pelicans. The streets of New Orleans are stepping to his beat in a way that makes Mannie Fresh jealous.
The Pelicans held a free jam session concert, which they called it an open practice, on Saturday, October 5. Over 13,000 people filled the lower bowl of the Smoothie King Center to watch the team work out the setlist of plays, positions, and power dunks. The most fun parts of the practice were saved for last. Sadly, Williamson missed his two spectacular dunks at the end of the session.
Still, Pelicans fans left the arena far more excited than they entered, and most were running to grab a general admission seat after hours in the heat. New Orleans breeds fast fans. By 5:20, the lower bowl was mostly filled. The team planned to open the doors at 5 p.m. and start practice an hour later. Noticing that most fans had skipped the beer and food concessions, the team was playing in a controlled but fast-paced full-court game by 5:30.
There was lots of engagement. David Griffin has brought an engaging attitude to every aspect of the franchise. He was the most engaged front office executive this summer, for good reason. The team’s marketing engages the fanbase better than ever. There was plenty of coaching engagement in the drills before the open practice officially started. The attitude was evident watching Zion and the rookies asking questions.
And practice still had yet to officially start.
Sure, the New Orleans Pelicans held a closed practice that ended at 4:45 p.m. The intensity of the practice was heard beyond the black curtains hiding the action from curious eyes. The players were in full sweat when the doors opened. The doors opening was timed to align with a hydration break.
With so many people in the building, the public address announcer welcomed everyone and thanked them for coming 15 minutes before the official start time. The scorekeeper put 15:00 on the clock and ran it down. Then the team introductions started.
This was no South Beach Serenade full of promises. This was a quick hello and then the team was back to business. A couple of quarters of basketball to get the team comfortable playing in front of a home crowd. New Orleans has only one preseason game at home, but it was obvious this year’s team has a home with these fans.
The biggest cheers were for Williamson’s first dunk and the flair plays that followed. However, the fans were showing appreciation for every player on the court. The Pelicans’ quick hour-long scrimmage was more speed dating that star gazing. Players are falling in love with the city just as quickly as the fans have embraced this new, fresh relationship with the local team.
It was near unanimous amongst the fanbase, which filled most of the upper bowl midway through the exhibition scrimmage. The team they saw practice is a team before it’s time. They’ll run into the playoffs at a pace never seen before, and the fans will continue to flock to the arena for generations to come, even if it means hearing the rookies sing initiation karaoke.