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  • Writer's pictureMatt Colville

Smoothie King Center – New Orleans Pelicans




Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.14

Smoothie King Center 1501 Dave Dixon Dr New Orleans, LA 70113


Year Opened: 1999

Capacity: 17,900

 

Laissez les bons rouler at "The Blender"

For most people when it comes to New Orleans, they think the Crescent City is a football town. After all, this is the South, and New Orleans has a love affair with the Saints and LSU football that remains unmatched by most major cities. However, for some people New Orleans can be considered a pretty big basketball town as well, and like the long and winding Mississippi River that runs through the city, New Orleans has a long and winding history with hoops that rivals its football history.


First there was future Hall of Famer Larry Brown, who would lead the 1968 New Orleans Buccaneers to the ABA Finals. Then in 1974 the NBA placed an expansion team here, the New Orleans Jazz – the Jazz were led by former LSU star and Louisiana sports icon "Pistol" Pete Maravich, a man considered the greatest ball handler ever. Venue and attendance issues playing in a cavernous Superdome, combined with never making the playoffs, plagued the Jazz from the beginning, however, causing the team to relocate to Utah in 1979, where they remain to this day.


Over the next 23 years, New Orleans would be without a professional basketball team, but the city would have plenty of great basketball moments – it was in New Orleans where Michael Jordan won his first championship, as his UNC Tar Heels won the college tournament in 1982. It was also where Indiana coach Bob Knight would win his third and final championship in 1987, and where UNC coach Dean Smith would win his second and final championship in 1993; ultimately the Crescent City has hosted seven Final Fours as of 2024.


The newest era of basketball in New Orleans began in 2002, when the Charlotte Hornets moved here and began play at Smoothie King Center, located right next door to Caesars Superdome. Re-named the Pelicans in 2013, the Pels have added another chapter to New Orleans' rich and storied sports history thanks in part to names such as Baron Davis, Jamal Mashburn, Chris Paul, Anthony Davis, and now Zion Williamson, who have all donned Hornets/Pelicans jerseys over the last 23 years.

 

Food and Beverage   4

When you're in a culinary staple of a city like New Orleans, you can expect nothing less when it comes to concessions here, with over 30 points of sale where you can get food and drink throughout the arena. Smoothie King Center also has only two levels (100 and 300), so it doesn't take long at all to go up and down between floors.


On the 100 level you can find different stands, each with their own unique New Orleans flavor. Tip Off offers jambalaya and alligator sausage dogs, while Nola Nachos offers custom and specialty Cajun or seafood nachos, or check out Krispy Krunchy Chicken for friend Cajun chicken tenders and wings. You can also get pizza by the slice at Parish Pizza, or gourmet burgers from Back Court Burgers, while for New Orleans seafood try Pier 121 for fried catfish, oysters, or shrimp po-boys. There are even portable stands that sell Creole fixins' like red beans and rice and gumbo, and if you like spicy Cajun food then you are in luck coming to a Pels game.


The 300 level features 14 stands, with many of them the same stands as on the first floor; the only notable difference being the addition of Sweet Shack, which is a decent sized candy store. Make sure you get some pralines, as New Orleans has some of the best pralines in the world.


For beverages there are plenty of drink offerings, as well as several bars you can sit down at located throughout the arena. The great thing about the bars is they are open to the public – on the 100 level at the main entrance there is Jameson Sports Bar with over 20 beers on tap, while on the 300 level there is a bar called Shooters, with big screen TVs and excellent views of downtown New Orleans.



Alternatively, for a unique setting try Hennessey Lounge, located on the north side of the 300 level; this dimly lit lounge area features couches, and provides a much more intimate and less crowded spot than any other bar in the arena. While at Hennessey you can purchase plenty of domestic or imported beers, in cans or on draft. Be sure to try one of Faurborg Brewery's local beers on tap – this east New Orleans brewery offers custom beers for the region such as Velvet Voodo, Westwego West Bank IPA, Golden Cypress, and Beignet Au Lait (flavored after Cafe du Monde's famous beignets). New Orleans is also known for their daiquiris, and you can find plenty of daiquiris at most of the bars on the concourse, including two daiquiri only stands. And of course Smoothie King Center has a Smoothie King located inside the venue; at the 100 level near the main entrance you can get a smoothie in any of their delicious flavors.

 

Atmosphere   4

Nicknamed "The Blender", Smoothie King Center opened its doors in 1999 as New Orleans Arena, with the sole purpose to attract an NBA franchise. The building was purposely built unfinished, to take into account any renovations the building would require to land a team. The Blender is slowly beginning to show its age, and has received some flack in recent years as not being up to comparison with other NBA venues. The Blender also doesn't really stand out amongst the New Orleans skyline, being overshadowed by its neighbor next door, Caesars Superdome. But for everything the arena is lacking, and in a city known for its partying, the Pels gameday staff does an excellent job trying to make it an exciting and festive atmosphere.


You'll know it's Pelicans gameday in New Orleans as soon as you lay eyes on Caesars Superdome and Smoothie King Center heading into the city, as both venues will be lit up from the outside with red and blue LED lights (Pelicans colors), along with searchlights lighting up the sky in all directions. There are two entrances into the arena, on the north and east sides – I recommend entering at street level on the north side, which is the main entrance, and outside the arena there is usually a jazz or brass band playing as you enter, and the street is sometimes blocked off for a street party.


You’ll enter the facility into a wide-open and spacious lobby and have a chance to be on TV, as Pelicans Live, the official pre-game show on Bally's Sport, is set up broadcasting with former Hornet point guard David Wesley leading the crew. Next door is the huge team store that was recently renovated for last season, as well as another cool exhibit, on the northwest side of the first floor concourse, in the Louisiana basketball history display. Here you can find wall exhibits and touch screen displays of some of the past figures in Louisiana basketball history. You can also find a display showing the history of all the different college basketball programs in the state, and on the wall as you walk the long hallway, you'll find all the high school jerseys of all the basketball programs in the state. A large pelican statue is also located near the displays, which makes for an excellent photo opportunity.



Upstairs on the 300 level you'll also find other exhibits, such as an arcade area and a replica locker room area with all the players’ jerseys and shoes in their lockers – you can compare your wingspan to Brandon Ingram, or measure your shoe size versus Zion Williamson. The entire north and east side upper concourse is glass as well, providing you with excellent views of the New Orleans skyline.


Once in the seating bowl the arena is separated into two levels, with 40 club suites and 16 premiere suites that make up the 200 level. There is also the semi-private Hub Club located above Section 118; the club features premium seating for 127 fans, and also features a full-service bar. There is also a part of the Hub Club open to the public with TVs and a large bar that overlooks the arena floor. The in-house DJ is also located right here in the Hub Club, playing music over the arena PA system.


Above center court hangs a large videoboard that shows a pretty impressive cool intro video when the Pels make their intro. The video really captures the essence and spirit of New Orleans, and has a dark voodoo theme, featuring the players backdropped by various places around New Orleans and in the French Quarter. The game day staff also does an excellent job during timeouts; you'll find the in-house emcee doing various promotional contest and giveaways. The t-shirt cannon they have is huge and has the ability to shoot up to 50 shirts into the stands at one time, and they also have staff in the rafters throwing out shirts to those in the upper decks.

 

Neighborhood   4

‘Tis no other city in the world like New Orleans, but there is more than just Bourbon Street and drunken tourists. If you come to New Orleans you'll find a very rich and storied city filled with lots of culture, music, and attractions for all ages, as well as some of the best foods, some of which can only be found here.


Smoothie King Center is nestled among the skyscrapers of the Central Business District (CBD) – in this neighborhood you’ll find mostly high-rise and government buildings, but the CBD does have a few attractions worth checking out. For example, about a mile south is the National World War II Museum, a must visit if in New Orleans and the largest collection of WWII memorabilia in the country. A few other attractions nearby include Harrah's Casino, Saenger Theatre, and Roosevelt Hotel, which hosts an amazing Christmas lights display. Also, across the street from the Roosevelt check out Orpheum Theatre, an old vintage 1920s theatre with a downstairs speakeasy called Double Decker.


Compared to most big cities, New Orleans actually has quite a small metro area, so no matter where you are in the city you are less than 10 miles from all the attractions. The French Quarter is a must visit when in the city – most people associate the French Quarter with Bourbon Street, but there are so many more sights to see around the Quarter besides that, including Jackson Square, the French Market, Jax Brewery, St. Louis Cathedral, and many other historic sites and museums. It's impossible to list all of the restaurants in New Orleans, but must visits in the French Quarter include Cafe du Monde, Mother’s Restaurant, and Pat O'Brien's, which is famous for its hurricane drinks and dueling pianos. About a block south of the arena you'll also find a Walk On's as well as Dave and Buster’s, either of which can be a great pre-game spot.


New Orleans also has a few family friendly options, including the Aquarium of the Americas located just off the French Quarter on the river. You can also either take a riverboat or streetcar uptown to visit the Audobon Zoo, or the Garden District is only about a ten minute drive from the Superdome, where you can take a tour of many historic houses. City Park also makes a great visit for the family as well, just for its gardens alone.

 

Fans   4

After the Charlotte Hornets moved here overnight in 2002, they had a hard time establishing a solid fan base in the Crescent City. The Hornets had a rough start from the beginning – for one, moving to a small market already dominated by the Saints didn't help matters either, not to mention the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which forced the team to temporarily relocate to Oklahoma City. The team also didn't have a lot of winning seasons during those first ten years; not even superstar players like Chris Paul and Baron Davis could help the lowly franchise.


Ultimately it would take football to save basketball, as the team was purchased by Saints owner Tom Benson in 2012. The team would get a complete re-brand in 2013, being re-named after something that suited the region a little better: the state bird of Louisiana, the pelican. The mascot's name even suits the area more, as "Pierre" the Pelican has a name that matches Louisiana's French and Creole history. Pierre walks the arena throughout the game and is very active; he even has his own little area where he hangs out with the kids, on the 300 level near the arcade. The secondary mascot is a giant walking baby in a diaper that is modeled after Mardi Gras' famous king cake babies – though this latter mascot has been voted the NBA's creepiest, this is New Orleans and everything is different here, so what can you expect? The baby mascot has become a big hit with fans in the city since coming over from the old New Orleans Baby Cakes AAA baseball team.



With the Saints affiliation and the Benson Family owning the team, the team re-brand has only been positive for the franchise, bringing in a new wave of fans. Walking the concourse you'll find a lot more people wearing not only Pelicans gear and Zion # 1 jerseys, but also Saints jerseys or Drew Brees jerseys. Walking the hallways you can also expect to find many Saints tickets sales executives trying to sell tickets for football season, and when you are at Saints games expect to find Pelicans executives trying to sell basketball tickets. The partnership between the two has only benefitted both teams, as well as helped the city and both franchises recover from Hurricane Katrina.


The Pelicans average about 17,200 fans per game, which as of last season ranked near the bottom of the NBA. However, the building only holds 17,900, so take that into account when you hear about the Pelicans not drawing well.

 

Access   3

Getting to Smoothie King Center should be easy no matter where you're coming from – the arena is located behind the Superdome to the west, so you may not see it if coming from the east, but just look for the Dome. Interstate 10 will be the main way you come into to town; if coming from the west use Exit 13A onto Clairborne Street, while if coming from the east use Exit 235B. Navigating the one-way streets and aggressive drivers to get to the arena once in the city may pose some issues though. Also, New Orleans isn't exactly known for their nice streets, as many of the streets are congested and need of lots of upkeep.


On the property there are seven covered parking garages and two public surface lots that hold over 7,000 cars, including five parking garages surrounding the Superdome and two Smoothie King Center.   Parking is actually pretty cheap, with parking in the garages costing between $12 and $15 depending on which one you park at. There are tons of public lots and garages scattered throughout the Central Business District as well, where you might find cheaper parking, but it will require walking a couple of blocks to the facility.


Certain areas around the neighborhood can get kind of sketchy after dark, so take that into account if you decide to park in the city and walk to the game. I advise against parking at any lots under the interstate along Clairborne Street or north of the CBD, as these areas aren't exactly the safest. However, once inside the arena you should have no problem getting around, as the concourses are wide enough to allow frequent flow, and due to having so many concession stands they tend not to back up. The arena is also quite small with only two public levels, so you shouldn't have any issues traversing your way around while inside.

 

Return on Investment   5

Coming to a Pels game is a great return on investment, as the Pels remain one of the cheapest tickets in the NBA. Like most NBA teams the Pels have dynamic ticket prices, where tickets to certain games against big opponents cost more than others, and pricing also depends on whether the Pels are having a winning season or not. Most games are pretty reasonable, and you can get tickets in the upper deck for most games between $8 and $15 – for certain teams like the Lakers, Celtics, and Warriors, however, expect to pay between $50 and $100 to sit in the upper deck. Weeknight games are the best games to attend as these will be some of the games where you can park and get a ticket for less than $20, which is an absolute steal to see some of the best basketball players in the world; this season’s team is one of the hottest, young teams in the NBA, led by Zion, Brandon Ingram, and C.J. McCollum. 


New Orleans is also a very vibrant city filled with amazing foods, cultures, and of course Mardi Gras. It is a city everyone should visit at least once, so just by coming to Crescent City you are getting your money's worth.  

 

Extras   5

One extra for all the big events Smoothie King Center has held over the years; besides the Pelicans the venue has also held the NBA All-Star Game three times (2008, 2014, and 2017), and has been a popular host for March Madness, serving as a first and second round site for the Men's NCAA Tournament twice (2007 and 2010), as well as hosting the Sweet 16 in 2011. The arena has also hosted two Women's Final Fours (2004 and 2013), as well as the first and second rounds of the 2008 NCAA Women's Tournament. The 2012 SEC Conference Basketball Tournament was also held here in 2019, not to mention the 2024 SEC Gymnastics Tournament. Besides the Pelicans, the Blender was also the home of the New Orleans Brass ECHL hockey team from 1997 to 2002, as well as home to the New Orleans VooDoo arena football team, from 2004 thru 2008, and again from 2011 thru 2015.


Another extra for the Louisiana basketball exhibits on the first floor – in a region not traditionally known for basketball, the exhibits do an excellent job honoring the players, colleges, and high schools of Louisiana. They have exhibits on the wall as well as interactive touch screens; some of the players honored include those who went to college or high school in the state, names such as Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone, Kim Mulkey, Elvin Hayes, and Joe Dumars. Smoothie King Center even has exhibits on the old New Orleans Hornets and Jazz franchises, including old jerseys and programs, plus a special exhibit on "Pistol" Pete Maravich, who was considered a folk hero in Louisiana due to his days at LSU and with the Jazz. You could easily spend 15-20 minutes just reading the exhibit text if you love sports history.



One extra for the name change in 2013 from the Hornets to the Pelicans – the cool thing about the history of New Orleans professional sports franchises is they all have nicknames that tie into the spirit and culture of Louisiana. The Saints, Jazz, Brass, Zephyrs, Baby Cakes, Gold, and Buccaneers are all names of past and presents sports teams in New Orleans; now the basketball nickname fits the identity of New Orleans, and the Pelicans staff do an excellent job at marketing that name.


One extra for the Saints-Pelicans partnership that formed when Tom Benson purchased the team in 2012; even though Mr. Benson is no longer with us, his wife Gayle is the sole owner of both the Saints and the Pelicans. The two franchises even share a training facility, as the Pelicans indoor training facility is located in part of the Ochsner Sports Complex in Metairie, which also includes the Saints indoor and outdoor training facilities.

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