Pelicans, G League and Birmingham officials announced today the developmental league’s expansion into the Magic City. The team will begin playing in Erie, Pennsylvania, next year while the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) completes a $123 million renovation and expansion of Legacy Arena.
“This is a tremendous day for the Pelicans organization,” said Pelicans owner Gayle Benson. “I’d like to thank the city of Birmingham, Mayor Woodfin and Tad Snider of the BJCC for being such fantastic partners in the endeavor. These are exciting times for this region, and we feel so fortunate to be a part of it.”
Dennis Lauscha, president of the Pelicans, said when the team looked at what Birmingham had to offer, it was an easy choice for a G League team.
“The thing that’s so spectacular about Birmingham is it really checks all of the boxes,” he said. “It’s a great city. It’s got a great business base. You start looking at television ratings of people who follow NBA basketball and Birmingham is in the Top 10. That’s really exciting.”
Lauscha is also president of the New Orleans Saints, so he knows that football is entrenched in the Southeast.
“It makes me ecstatic that people love football, but there is a passion for basketball, too,” he said. “Hopefully we can fulfill that passion.”
Robert Simon, CEO of Birmingham’s Corporate Realty, played a pivotal role in luring the Pelicans to the Magic City after working with the organization on another project.
“We’ve been working on this for a year,” Simon said. “As we continued to have discussions, Birmingham kept coming up. Obviously, we’re Birmingham people and Birmingham-centric and really wanted to see it happen. And the brand is fantastic. It’s great for the communities. It gets the children involved, which is so important in the outreach that they do.”
Simon was instrumental in getting Regions Field built in downtown Birmingham to lure the Birmingham Barons baseball team back to the city from Hoover. He said getting the G League team into a newly renovated Legacy Arena could be even bigger for Birmingham.
“Birmingham is absolutely an NBA city,” Simon said. “I think it is the sport that we’re most well-positioned for. Having the brands of the NBA, having the brands of Major League Baseball here in Birmingham is a big deal.”
The renovated arena is part of $300 million in enhancements at the BJCC that includes a new stadium and other improvements.
“This arena has such a great basketball history, it’s just a wonderful next step,” said Tad Snider, CEO and executive director of the BJCC.
Snider said the upgrade to the arena wasn’t necessary to lure the Pelicans to Birmingham, but it didn’t hurt.
“The deal didn’t require that, but it was just the icing on the cake,” he said. “The timing is perfect to come right out of renovating and have a great, first-class facility and have a great basketball experience. You can’t ask for more than that.”
The BJCC will be central to the 2021 World Games and will become home to UAB football once the stadium is constructed. Now it will be host to an NBA G League team. The G League team will have offices in the BJCC’s Forum Building.
“It speaks to the energy around Birmingham right now, and anything we can do to add to that and be a part of it and lift Birmingham overall – it’s actually an exciting time,” Snider said.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said having facilities and the ability to support big events are important to the city’s goals.
“I think we will continue to grow,” Woodfin said. “I think the message we’re trying to send is simple: If we’re going to be a sports town, we need to have the resources as well as the infrastructure and the facilities to support being a sports town.”
Simon said Birmingham is attracting attention.
“What you see right now in Birmingham is we’re continuing to get those looks and I don’t think that’s going to stop,” he said. “It is by design, it’s very purposeful. I think the things we’re doing as a community are working.”
The Pelicans G League team will play in Erie as the “Erie BayHawks,” which was most recently affiliated with the Atlanta Hawks NBA team. The team will have a different name and identity when it makes the move to Birmingham. The community will be included in helping choose the new name.
Lauscha said the G League teams are critical to their NBA affiliates.
“The competition in the NBA has never been stronger,” he said. “Every single game is tough, and the talent is really off the charts. It’s imperative, especially for a small market like us, to develop talent as best we can so they can be on our team. It’s right up there with one of the most important things we do.”
Malcolm Turner, president of the NBA G League, said Birmingham has long been on the league’s radar.
“We’ve always been really interested in Birmingham as a marketplace,” he said. “We were attracted both for basketball and business reasons. It’s the kind of market that always sat atop the list that we thought could really be a successful market.”
Turner said they are not only a developmental league for players but for everyone involved in a professional basketball operation, from coaches to trainers to referees and even office staff and support operations.
“If you have NBA aspirations, NBA dreams, part of our mission is to help NBA dreams come true,” he said. “We’re a league of aspirations, we’re a league of opportunity, so we’re thrilled we can offer that platform.”
A record 40 percent of NBA players to start the 2018-19 season had NBA G League experience, while 33 players selected in the 2017 NBA Draft played in the NBA G League last season.
Fans can learn more about the Birmingham G League franchise by visiting www.birminghamhoops.com.
The New Orleans Pelicans produced a video with its players welcoming Birmingham to the family. You can watch it below.