Home » National Basketball Association (NBA) » Josh Hart: ‘If you embrace New Orleans, it will embrace you tenfold’

Whenever a major NBA trade happens in 2019, basketball fans and media instantly head to social media, to see if the players involved have any reaction to the news. As New Orleans hoops aficionados scanned @JoshHart on Twitter in mid-June – less than 24 hours after he was involved in a blockbuster trade – many were taken aback to see Hart’s avatar had already been changed to a photo of him wearing a navy blue Pelicans shirt.

It was a sign of things to come. Soon thereafter, the 24-year-old came up with the locally-inspired nickname of “Beignet Boys” for the trio who arrived in the Crescent City from the Los Angeles Lakers, which also includes Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. Like several of New Orleans’ offseason additions, Hart also immediately began sampling the city’s world-famous cuisine, but perhaps no player was as enthusiastic in doing so, to an extent where he needed to rein himself in a bit.

“I had to get a chef, because I was sitting there saying to myself, ‘I can’t be eating this kind of food all the time!’ ” a grinning Hart recalled, just prior to training camp. “I was having bacon-wrapped shrimp and grits, stuff like that, deep-fried oysters. I can’t eat all that during the year – I’m going to feel fat, and I’ll be slow on the court and everyone’s going to boo me. I don’t want that to happen, so I had to get a chef. But the food is crazy down here.”

When an abbreviated version of that quote appeared in a Sept. 24 tweet, it received over 1,200 likes, with many New Orleans fans quickly showing their appreciation for Hart’s perspective and passion for one of the city’s biggest attractions.

“At this point, I think I’m physically incapable of booing Josh,” wrote one Pelicans supporter in response to the third-year pro’s half-joking concern about weight gain and negative fan reaction. “Never seen a player be this all-in for the team and this city!” added another fan.

Based on what he’s experienced in less than four months as a member of the Big Easy’s NBA team, local responses like those have been quite common.

“I’ve been encouraged by it, because it’s always love,” Hart said of how New Orleans has interacted with him since the trade. “You always see people talking about how they’re excited for this season and excited for this team. Obviously (the Pelicans) didn’t make the playoffs last year, but we want to have that excitement (of being there) and have that energy and vibe going into this year. For a team like this that struggled last year, going into this season having this kind of vibe and energy from the fan base is so encouraging. It makes us focus (even more), because we’ve got the crowd behind us, the city behind us. We’re going to go out there and hoop and ball and make it fun.”

Given the ever-present rumors around the NBA during the second half of last season, it would’ve been virtually impossible for Hart, Ingram and Ball to avoid hearing talk that they might be included in an Anthony Davis trade. When the June deal was finalized and speculation began that some of the new Pelicans might be shipped somewhere else, Hart phoned Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin, telling Griffin he wanted to stay in New Orleans. Griffin assured Hart that the player was acquired to be part of the Pelicans, not as an asset in a subsequent trade. Hart was relieved to hear it. Convinced he was in the plans of his new NBA franchise, Hart went to work on wrapping his arms around everything possible.

“I’m a very loyal person, whether that’s family, friends or the organization I’m playing for,” Hart said. “I’m very loyal to that. When I’m at a place where I’m wanted, I want to give that love right back. I want to give back to the fans just because of their support and their love for the Pelicans, the energy and excitement we have around this team. Obviously we have a big Saints following here, but we want to be a big team with a huge following and a very passionate following. I felt like that was something for myself and for this team that we had to do.”

“Josh is an incredible teammate,” Ingram described, before alluding to his loyalty. “He’s one of those ride-or-die guys.”

Although NBA preseason is under way and the 82-game schedule will curtail some of Hart’s free time, he has plenty of plans in the works to get to know New Orleans even more intimately. He recently attended the city’s Fried Chicken Fest and is curious to experience numerous other regional activities.

“I want to go on a plantation tour, maybe a bayou tour, a swamp tour,” Hart said. “This city is very welcoming. The people have that Southern hospitality to them. They ride with you no matter what – good times, bad times, always going to ride with you. I’ve seen that if you embrace this city, they’ll embrace you tenfold.”