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In 2018, the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans will launch a new minor league basketball team, but where that team will play is still up in the air as team and league officials continue to evaluate a number of finalist cities.

Pensacola is one of four cities that are still officially being vetted by the Pelicans to host the new team, which is set to begin play in the 2018-2019 season. Jackson, Miss., along with Baton Rouge and Shreveport in Louisiana are the other cities still contending to host the team.

The league’s development league — commonly called the “D League” — is the NBA’s official minor league organization. The league has rebranded as the G League as the result of a sponsorship deal with Gatorade.

A senior official with the Pelicans said Thursday that Pensacola was “still very much in the running” to host the team.

In June, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward, Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May, hotelier Jay Patel, and other city officials met with Stephen Pate, Executive Director of Community and Governmental Affairs for the Pelicans. During the visit to Pensacola, Pate toured the city with Hayward and observed a Blue Wahoos game.

“The point of the meeting was to show unity and that we’re all behind this effort to support the Pelicans and their potential investment in Pensacola,” said Ben Ouellette, executive aide to Hayward. “Bringing the Pelicans to Pensacola will have to be a joint effort between all community stakeholders.”

The Pensacola Bay Center, one of the region’s newer sports arenas, was built in the early 1980s but has seen few major updates to modernize the facility in its 35-year history. (Drew Buchanan/The Pulse)

“We felt strongly about our original meeting with the Pelicans organization in New Orleans and our recent meeting with governmental affairs representative Steven Pate went well in Pensacola,” Mayor Ashton Hayward said Thursday. “Our team is continuing talks with the Pelicans and we hope we are successful in winning the bid for them to come to Pensacola.”

The city’s proposal sent to the Pelicans last month examined options pertaining to where the new team could play if Pensacola was chosen. A central talking point during discussions is how the Escambia County-owned Pensacola Bay Center could be utilized by the yet-to-be-named team or if a new arena should be built.

The 24-page proposal outlines the facilities available at the 35-year-old Bay Center, which already owns a hardwood basketball court that’s been used for the Harlem Globetrotters and other events. City officials also identified the Vickrey Community Center as a potential temporary practice facility for the team.

The yet-to-be-named new G League team will be owned and operated by New Orleans’ Benson family, which owns the Pelicans as well as the New Orleans Saints football team.

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