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The Birth of the New Orleans Jazz

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The Birth of the New Orleans Jazz



On March 7, 1974 the NBA awarded the league’s 18th team, an expansion franchise, to the city of New Orleans. The expansion fee for the franchise was $6.15 million, and the ownership group was a nine-man syndicate primarily composed of Californians. The most noted of these was Sam Battistone of Santa Barbara, whose fortune came from the Sambo’s restaurant chain.

New Orleans at the time was in a period of economic growth. After the national economic growth trends of the fifties and sixties, the metro area was experiencing a regional growth spurt, primarily due to the booming oil economy in south Louisiana. The city’s skyline was growing by leaps and bounds, with buildings being constructed up and down Poydras Street, most notable among them the Louisiana Superdome. There was rapid growth in the suburbs to handle the amount of incoming relocatees. The awarding of the NBA franchise was an affirmation of this growth and positive change, another step in the notion of New Orleans being a ‘big-league’ town: “Now all we need for the Dome is a baseball team….”  

The name “Jazz” was soon announced as the name for the new team, and the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold chosen as the team’s colors. The unique logo was also unveiled—an intriguing art deco spelling of the word ‘Jazz’, with the leading ‘J’ incorporating both a musical note and a basketball.

Bill Bertka was named general manager of the team, Scotty Robertson was hired as the first head coach, and the team acquired famed guard “Pistol Pete” Maravich from the Atlanta Hawks as their first player. The Pistol was a flashy scorer and a home-state hero out of LSU, and as such created even more fan interest in the team. Another local hero, Aaron James of Grambling (and New Orleans’ Cohen High School), was the team’s first draft pick.

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