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New Orleans Pelicans

Giving Thanks

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Writing for Locked on Pelicans is a treat. It allows our team of writers to provide great New Orleans Pelicans analysis, breaking news and even a solid monster mash or two. Just as importantly, it empowers us to be different and write what needs to be read. Today, I want to give thanks for the great gift Pelicans basketball gives to us on and off the court.

First, I have a confession: sometimes I forget basketball is just a game. I played for a long time – never any level of consequence – and I remember it so vividly. Hard winter practices in drafty church gyms, painfully panting with every cold breath piercing my lungs. Tossing at night over missed defensive rotations resulting in extra running at practice. Sometimes wondering on jubilant bus rides from a victory in a tiny Georgia town: why do I do this? What is it for?

Nov 15, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins (0) reacts after being fouled by a Toronto Raptors player in the first quarter at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Basketball is a game. A great game is an outlet for a stressed out student. Rivalry matches are a parent’s chance to pass along passion for sport and team pride. Friday night games are great times out with friends. It’s also an invitation to witness a chapter of a story that features warriors of extraordinary physique and skill – all for our entertainment.

And isn’t that really the draw, the fantasy and wonder of what we’re seeing? The real world never penetrates our arena, even though it swirls in chaos all around. The players aren’t people; they’re knights sent in to slay the dragons of the Eastern and Western conference. We aren’t fans off from work in the CBD or season ticket holders driving in from Destrehan for a Tuesday night game; we’re spectators watching gladiators in battle. The Smoothie King Center is the stage for tonight’s show. We don’t even count the calories of our food and drink.

But as much as we hope our franchise achieves greatness on the court, it continues enjoying a great deal of success off of it. That’s real, and it deserves our thanks.

The Pelicans demonstrate endless compassion. This team has experienced its share of tragedy in the last few seasons. If you have been a fan of this New Orleans team, you know we embraced Ryan Anderson when his fiancée committed suicide in 2013. Years later, the franchise rallied around former head coach Monty Williams when he lost his wife, Ingrid, in a horrible auto accident. As recently as last season, fans held their breath as Jrue and Lauren Holiday braved their way through her brain tumor surgery – during the pregnancy of their first child. Through each instance, the Pelicans franchise embraced these players and coaches, supporting them in every way that they could.

The Pelicans – and their players – are dedicated to community service. Anthony Davis has been a Pelican and/or Hornet for five years. For five years, he and his family have fed the hungry and homeless in New Orleans at Thanksgiving through the New Orleans Mission. A winner of the monthly NBA Cares Community Assist Award, Davis has also treated hundreds of disadvantaged children to Toys R Us shopping sprees, Pelicans games and basketball clinics. He has become the heir apparent to Chris Paul – also a winner of the award while in New Orleans – both on and off the court.

Oct 28, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Fans arrive outside prior to tip off of a game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Orlando Magic at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Most of all, this franchise shows a deep sense of community pride. Even in its name, the New Orleans Pelicans franchise embraces its ties to the city. Rather than a catchy name, the franchise chose one with meaning. Add to that the franchise’s run (albeit brief) with a house band led by local musician Irvin Mayfield; Zatarain’s jambalaya available during games; Dixie on tap at the season ticket holder beer garden; and even an international company based out of Louisiana sponsors the arena. This franchise has shown it is incredibly proud to be a product of Louisiana.

Nov 13, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Darius Miller (21) celebrates a made shot against the Atlanta Hawks in the second half at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans won, 106-105. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Living in this city and this state isn’t always a fairy tale. It can be hard living about as often as it can be a celebration. But when a game tips off downtown, the promise of a Brow alley-oop off a Boogie pass draws me into the spectacular theatrics of this world in which men who loom like redwoods that have the audacity to suspend the laws of physics 41 times a year. In those impossible moments free of the burdens that life may bring, I confess: it’s hard to remember it’s just a game.

Happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy your holiday.

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Jermaine L. Smith is a New Orleans fundraiser and writer with pieces published on Pelican Debrief and Cracked.com

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