August 18, 2014

NBA Team Name Rank, Part 2

Two weeks ago, I posted Part 1 of a promised three part series about NBA team names. Gotta do something to keep my mind on the NBA in August. Here's Part 2.

Category Five: Not Relevant But Alliterative
I can just hear the cries of woe coming from Cleveland now. Yes, the next two nicknames are not relevant and are also incredibly boring, just like the Cavaliers. And yes, the Cavaliers name is alliterative and the Kings name is not. And why am I even separating boring non-alliterative names from boring alliterative names? All good points and questions, but it's my blog and the Cavs ain't going in the same category as the Wizards. No way, no how. And let's face it, nobody from Cleveland is likely to read this anyway.

20. Sacramento Kings
The NBA traces its history back to the 1946-1947 season when the league began life as the Basketball Association of America or BAA. By the start of the 1949-1950 season, the league had been re-named as the National Basketball Association and the Kings, or Rochester Royals, as they were named at that time, were aboard as part of the partial merger with the National Basketball League in 1948. Since they joined the now-NBA, the Kings have had more names than any other franchise except one, mostly due to their continual movement west. Their evolution starts with the Rochester Royals and continues as follows: Cincinnati Royals, Kansas City-Omaha Kings, Kansas City Kings and finally the Sacramento Kings.

As a nickname, the Kings is OK, sort of middle of the road but not relevant at all, especially since the Kings have never been Kings of the NBA (the Royals were once, in 1951). The Kings come in at number 20 only because their name used to be alliterative in Kansas City and to tweak folks in Cleveland. I'm not sure their original name, the Rochester Seagrams, named after the company they played for, would rank any higher on this list, although it's certainly less generic. Shaquille O'Neal famously referred to the franchise as the Sacramento Queens but we won't go there here.

19. Washington Wizards
I see the Wizards placing 19th on this list (as opposed to first on last year's mascot rank) as proof that my rankings on totally subjective NBA issues don't always favor my beloved D.C. hoops team, although placing them this high is probably a little bit of a homer pick. I just finished writing about how the Kings are the second most named franchise; the Wizards finish first in this category and they blow the Kings away in terms of nicknames. Not sure that's a good thing; I'm just saying.

The Wizards joined the NBA for the 1961-1962 season as the Chicago Packers. A year later, they changed their nickname to the Zephyrs. One year after that, they moved to Baltimore and re-named themselves the Baltimore Bullets (they were the second Baltimore Bullets franchise to exist). The year 1963 often appears on Wizards merchandise as the team's founding year, especially when Abe Pollin ran the team. From there, a little nickname stability kicked in, although the team moved. The team was re-named the Capital Bullets for the 1973-1974 season after a move to Landover, Maryland and a year later they became the Washington Bullets which stuck until 1997 when they became the Washington Wizards. Phew! Glad all that's over.

As a name, Wizards honestly is not very good. The name was chosen in one of those oh-so-brilliant public contests (see Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavalier in Part 1 of this ranking) that NBA franchises sometimes participate in and so something like Wizards was really to be expected. The name beat out Dragons, Express, Stallions and Sea Dogs. Honestly, I sort of feel lucky we ended up as the Wizards. At least it's alliterative. Let's move on.

Category Six: Relevant But Blah
So finally we are into franchise names that are relevant in their current locations (other than the Milwaukee Bucks which were covered in the first part of this series). From here on out, there's some good stuff and it gets better with each team. Unfortunately, the first two relevant team names are a little uninspired. The worst of the best, if you will.

18. Dallas Mavericks
So Texas has cowboys, right? And cowboys ride horses, right? And everyone loves cowboys, right? Well, maybe not everyone but enough to base a team name on, right? All that is true, but horses is sort of a weak name so Dallas decided to use the name Mavericks, which is really in the truest sense of the word a name for a stray cow. I'll give the Mavs the benefit of the doubt and say their name is relevant. But it's bottom of the barrel relevant.

17. Minnesota Timberwolves
Just like the Mavericks name is OK because there are horses in Texas, the Minnesota Timberwolves name is OK because there are wolves in Minnesota, although wolves are actually pretty darned fierce so the name qualifies on the intimidation / I'm afraid of the actual thing that you are named after scale. The team name (again) was the result of a public contest and Timberwolves beat out Polars (thank God!). Kudos for the Timberwolves for not adopting either of the city's two ABA franchise names, the Muskies or Pipers. Timberwolves is much better.

Category Seven: Singular Plurals / Weather Related
I hate singular team names; just don't like them at all. It's a personal preference but I've known other people who have felt the same way. Oddly enough, two of the NBA's singular team names are weather related. I'm not sure why, but since there's another sort of weather related team name out there, I've put all four of these into a single category. I just feel the need to categorize, I guess.

16. Orlando Magic
Take one guess how the Magic got their name? That's right, it was a contest, this one sponsored by the Orlando Sentinel. The name beat out Heat, Tropics and Juice. You have no idea how much I long for the Orlando Juice. Can you imagine how ridiculous a Juice home game would be against the Washington Sea Dogs or the Minnesota Polars. The juice would have to have orange uniforms, right?Anyway, as a nickname for Orlando, I guess the Magic name ain't bad. There is allegedly no connection to Disney World (aka the Magic Kingdom) but, come on...really? Who's kidding whom here?

Honestly, I got nothing here. How do you show a picture of thunder?
15. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder popped up on the NBA nicknames list in 2008, when the team bolted Seattle and left the Supersonics name behind. Good move, here. The Supersonics, named after Seattle's proximity to Boeing's headquarters, doesn't work in Oklahoma. The name was chosen because of the vicious storms the state experiences yearly but also because the United States Army's 45th infantry division, also known as the Thunderbirds, resided in Oklahoma City from their founding in 1920 to their deactivation in 1968. That last part is really awesome, actually.

14. Miami Heat
I get it...Miami is hot. Hot = Heat. Cool!

I still think the Suns should change their mascot to the Jimmy Dean Sun. Just saying...
13. Phoenix Suns
The Suns finish at the top of this category, if only because they do not have a singular nickname, which I've already expressed some disdain for. Oh...and it's hot in Phoenix, just like it's hot in Miami. I guess the Sun is hotter than heat (although that could honestly be debated) and Phoenix is hotter than Miami so that works too.

Category Eight: Accidentally Relevant
Sometimes franchises move from one city to another, refuse to change their nickname and end up with a moniker that makes no sense for their current location (see Category Two in Part 1). Other teams get luckier. With no intent in mind, these franchises moved and somehow the names worked better than in their original cities.

12. Detroit Pistons
So the Pistons are named for the automotive industry that has been the calling card of Detroit for decades, right? Detroit is the "motor city" after all. Well, that's true but the Pistons name has nothing to do with Detroit. The Pistons were named after Fred Zollner's company, a Fort Wayne based outfit which happened to manufacture pistons for automobiles and trains. The team began play in the NBL way back in 1941, initially as the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, although by 1948 the Zollner part of the name was gone, shortened simply to the Fort Wayne Pistons. Zollner moved the team to Detroit in 1957 and impressively, gave the team name some thought. Ultimately, he decided the team name worked in Detroit, which it most certainly does.

11. Houston Rockets
OK, so we were wrong about intuitive thoughts on the Pistons name, but the Rockets have to be named  after Houston's prominent role in NASA's space flight programs going all the way back to the Mercury program, the program that featured the first American manned space flights, right? Ummm…no! Like the Pistons, the Rockets are transplants (this time from San Diego) who retained their original name because it just worked. The original name selection was based on the local (San Diego) development of the Atlas rocket; obviously the name worked even better in Houston. The Rockets beat out the Pistons for 11th in my ranking because they are just way more impressive. I'm not really confident I could draw a piston; I know I can draw a rocket.

So that's it. 11 through 20 done. Only the top ten remain. You'll have to wait a week for that.

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