Misplaced Monikers: Regionally Renaming the NBA
Thanks to the Internet (and, I suppose, Al Gore), I've finally been made consciously aware of something I've always only subconsciously suspected: The vast majority of team names in the NBA make no sense. Last week, Zach Lowe, a staff writer for Grantland, wrote a strikingly on-point and hilariously in-depth article ranking the team name of every NBA franchise. Not only did his list succeed in that his rankings seem almost perfectly accurate (at least based on his super subjective criteria), but he also expertly explored and explained the subtle, inane, and insane nuances of crafting a team's moniker.
One of his chief complaints is that the majority of team names in the NBA (and in all sports, really) are completely arbitrary in nature, having absolutely nothing to do with regional charm or relevance. Sports are a prideful enterprise, so divorcing your identity from your location seems counter-intuitive. The whole point of competition is to prove that you (or your team, or your fans, or your whatever) are the best. Therefore, major athletic franchises should reflect some sort of reaffirming regional significance in their name to express their local flavor and champion the virtues of their homeland.
Weirdly, this isn't the case. Appropriately-named teams have become the exception rather than the rule. Some of this has to do with certain teams moving to new locations and wanting to maintain brand recognition (which seems like a moronic approach, as a fresh start seems to be a golden, untapped marketing opportunity), some of this has to do with corporate advertising agreements, and some of this has to do with unimaginative team owners enforcing their will on a helpless fan base. But these are all excuses, not reasons - the difference being the former is based on shoulder shrugging apathy, while the latter is based on circumstantial necessity.
Therefore, I've taken it upon myself to rename the following franchises based on regional relevance and some personal snarky irreverence.
The Atlanta Hawks are our first regional offenders. Like many teams on this list, the name did make sense once upon a time. Originally, the Tri-City Blackhawks were named in reference to the Blackhawk War, which occurred mostly in northwest Illinois during the summer of 1832. After only seven years in the Moline area, the Tri-City Blackhawks moved to Milwaukee, where they spent two seasons before moving to St. Louis. After a whopping 13 seasons there, they were sold to former Georgia governor Carl Sanders, who promptly moved the team to the ATL, and there they remain - at least for now.
Other than CNN, Coca-Cola, and Outcast, Atlanta's greatest gift to the world was Margaret Mitchell's classic Civil War novel Gone with the Wind. The book tells the story of Scarlett O'Hara and her desperate plight to save her family's plantation during the tumultuous years following Sherman's "March to the Sea." In the novel, Scarlett represents the rebellious nature of southern Georgia during the Civil War and the early years of Reconstruction. With that in mind, why not throw Mitchell a posthumous bone, while simultaneously embracing the free spirit of the city?
Proposed Name Change: Atlanta Bumpkins
The Cleveland Cavaliers have a stupid name, but it's the name of the people. When the franchise was originally founded in 1970, Cleveland's newspaper, The Plain Dealer, held a fan voting competition to determine the name, and the Cavaliers won convincingly. Since then, the name has stuck, for better or for worse. Still, this decision was made during the Nixon administration, so maybe it's time for some revision.
The problem isn't with the name itself; cavaliers are actually pretty freakin' cool. The problem is that, at last count, the city of Cleveland had exactly zero pirates (assuming Johnny Depp wasn't in town promoting another flop). What they do have tons of, however, is music history. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is located right downtown, and Cleveland has long been considered a mecca of melody. The "Mistake by the Lake" is a gross, grungy town, but its pores ooze thundering drum fills, and over-the-top axe solos course through its very blood. It's time to ditch the cutlass and pick up a Les Paul.
Proposed Name Change: Rock City Jams
Golden State Warriors
First off, the coolness of the Warriors' geographical identity cannot be ignored. Everyone knows Oakland is a hole, but the Warriors cleverly avoided this municipal association. This is an example of marketing interference at its best and gives the Warriors a leg up on every other team on this list. Unfortunately, we still have that silly surname, which is a carryover from their origins in Philadelphia - where it also didn't make any sense. In a few seasons, the Warriors are moving back to San Francisco, making this the perfect opportunity for them to re-brand themselves.
San Francisco is one of America's great cities. It's beautiful, historic, diverse, and chocked full of culture. More than that, San Francisco is fascinating because of two significant earthquakes: The first nearly destroyed the city in 1906 and the second halted the 1989 World Series (which, coincidentally, was a match-up between the Oakland A's and the San Francisco Giants) for ten days. Before you jump all over me about celebrating a natural disaster, consider the precedent set by the Miami Hurricanes and Iowa State Cyclones.
Proposed Name Change: Golden State Tremors
Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers are arguably the most storied franchise in the history of the NBA (the Celtics being the only other team with a possible claim to the throne). Yet, despite their nearly perennial excellence, flashy color scheme, flashier style, and the fact that they play in the flashiest city in the country, their name is a leftover meatball from their time spent in Minneapolis during the 1940s and '50s.
The Lakers are part and parcel of L.A. They are a legacy, an institution. So much so that they're in the rare situation where a new name should not only be regionally relevant, but even self-referential. The best way to do this is to focus on the overlap, to capitalize on the cult of entitlement and excessive snobbery that both the city and the basketball team have embraced. Given L.A.'s rich basketball history, replete with megalomaniacs (Wilt, Kareem, Shaq, Kobe just to name a few), the name change seems so easy it's almost self-evident.
Proposed Name Change: Los Angeles Narcissists
In 1995, Vancouver became one of two Canadian cities to whom an NBA franchise had been awarded. They wisely chose a team name that not only tied directly to the local wildlife, but also represented the vicious style of play that the basketball team hoped to execute. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies were so bad that they were unable to generate fan interest and had to move to Memphis in 2001. Once there, they inexplicably held on to the original moniker.
Despite being one of the youngest large cities east of the Mississippi River, Memphis has a pretty ancient origin story. The region is located on a bluff rising from the banks of the Mississippi and was occupied for thousands of years by various Native American tribes. Naturally, the Edenic state of the region came to a swift end during the 18th century, when Andrew Jackson and several others officially founded the city. Noticing several geographical similarities to a certain ancient Egyptian city located along the Nile, the pioneering founders officially named the city Memphis. Next up came agricultural commodification (i.e. slavery) followed by rapid industrialization. Sound familiar?
Proposed Change: Memphis Pharaohs
The Nets recently traded for Jason Terry, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett, and they hired Jason Kidd to replace P.J. Carlesimo as their head coach. They play in the largest media market in the world and are broadcast on a television network owned by the New York Yankees. Their jerseys are awesome, and Jay-Z and a Russian mobster are both part owners of the team. Not only that, but they've finally escaped New Jersey and moved into a regal palace in Brooklyn. Yet the Nets still have the dubious distinction of having the most fundamentally boring name in the entire league.
The least hip aspect of basketball is the net, usually consisting of a woven collection of pale nylon used to corral the ball after a basket is scored. This dullness explains the rise of chain links hanging from baskets on playgrounds and driveways across America over the last 30 years or so. Sure, after draining 3's for months on end, the chains will eventually lopside your ball, but at least the game will feel cooler. That said, the Nets need to take their new found hipster hardass to the next level by actually replacing their nets with chains, which would then allow for the team to shed themselves once and for all of the New Jersey Nets and embrace a new identity.
Proposed Name Change: Brooklyn Chains
Like the Grizzlies, the Raptors entered the NBA in 1995. Unlike the Grizzlies, who named their team after a bear native to their locale, Toronto named their team based on '90s pop culture hysteria.
Jurassic Park was released in the summer of 1993, and overnight, the whole planet went absolutely cuckoo for dinos. Seemingly out of nowhere, dinosaurs were the most popular thing on the planet, despite the fact that they were extinct. There were toys, television shows, roller coasters, and thanks to our neighbors to the north attempting to capitalize on the popularity spawned by the film, a basketball team.
Just to be clear, there are no velociraptors roaming the streets of Toronto. And since there are not, Toronto needs a new name, fast. The team itself is consistently horrible, but the fans continue to hold out hope that the Raptors can put together a winner. (Canadians are so damned optimistic!) Still, the silliness of their name contributes to their less-than-stellar reputation. In order to be taken seriously by the rest of the league, it's obviously time to ditch the animated dinosaur and incorporate Canada's greatest cultural import.
Proposed Name Change: Toronto Friendlies
Some argue that this is actually the coolest name in all of sports, and it would definitely deserve some consideration for such an honor if not for one glaring geographical incongruity: Jazz music ranks right up there with strip clubs as Salt Lake City's least common form of entertainment.
There's also an inherent racial element involved here. Utah is the epicenter of the Mormonism, a religion often associated with a derogatory perspective of minorities in general, and blacks in particular. Obviously, this seems to clash with jazz music, which has predominately been informed by African American culture. This creates a cultural disconnect and possible evidence of white appropriation of black culture (again).
Utah referring to themselves as the Jazz makes no sense regionally or racially, so let's find them a replacement, shall we? First off, Utah is a boring way to start. Let's quickly change that to Salt Lake. Sounds a little more mystical, doesn't it?
Now the important stuff. Word association: What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think Utah? Go!
Proposed Name Change: Salt Lake Bummers
What's the implication here? Is this a thinly veiled attempt to alert us to the existence of masonic magic below the Capitol's pentagramic streets? I hope someone is finally ready to come out and admit that Ralph Nader is an Arthurian warlock sent ahead in time to alert us to the dangers of improper seatbelt usage. If not, then where in the HELL did they come up with this name?
The Wizards were originally called the Bullets, which, given the high crime rate of the D.C. area, actually fits perfectly. Unfortunately, the team owner felt this correlation reflected poorly on the team and decided to change the name to the Wizards after a public polling. This is insane, especially if you're going for a non-violent approach. I'm all for gun control, but magic, when in the wrong hands, is far more dangerous than any firearm. Not only that, but a Wizard is an exceptionally high rank in the Ku Klux Klan, and D.C. has a large African-American population. No better way to piss off an already violent city than disenfranchising an entire demographic. (Isn't this why marketing consultant firms exist?)
Washington D.C. has a long and storied political history, but 237 years after declaring our independence, our government still consists of two groups bitching about the validity of an outdated document while they waste our money on imperial conquest and ensuring the perpetual prosecution of potheads.
Proposed Name Change: Washington Failures
Not a Fan of Marketing, But...
I think that a few of these could probably use some more fine tuning, so I haven't written to the league office with my suggestions just yet. Still, I think this is a pretty good start.
Something's gotta give. The NBA's growth has stagnated over the last decade in comparison to the NFL and MLB, but the game itself remains largely the same - only the names have changed. If David Stern can't sell the wealth of talent that exists in this league, he's got a real problem on his hands.
What the NBA really has here is a marketing problem. People will always love basketball, but if franchises are unable or unwilling to mix things up a bit, people aren't going to care about the league at all. At the end of the day, the NBA is a collection of grown men dribbling inflatable leather on really shiny planks of wood. There's nothing inherently attractive about it; our interest is illusory. Team loyalty is predicated on identifying with the essence of your favorite franchises. They need to make us care, and switching things up a bit to establish new and interesting narratives might be a good place to start.