August 25, 2014

NBA Team Name Rank, Part 3

So here it is: Part 3 of my three part series of posts about how awesome or terrible or somewhere in between each NBA franchise's nickname is. Hopefully by now you have pored over the first two parts and are eagerly awaiting the listing of the top ten, culminating in the naming of a winner of sorts. Let's get right to it.

Category Nine: Good Stuff
So at this point, all the team nicknames are pretty good, meaning relevant and a little inventive and centered around things which are mostly readily identifiable. There are no more weather nicknames, no more non sequiturs and no more silliness (you know who I mean, Toronto Raptors). This late in the countdown, every team has some sort of legitimate credibility.

10. Boston Celtics / 9. New York Knicks
Their are many many similarities between the Boston and New York NBA franchises. They are the only two original NBA franchises who remain in their original cities; they both have winning traditions (stop laughing, Celtics fans); and they both named their teams after a portion of their own city's population.

The Celtics of course are named after the Irish immigrants that settled in Boston after the Great Irish Famine of the early to mid-1800s. Irish settlers were typically poor and had neither work nor food in their own country and so traveled across the Atlantic to the nearest possible port which is how a lot of them ended up in Boston. Once in Boston they formed a close knit community of lower class or blue collar workers. No nickname for a team in the late 1940s has a good chance of being all inclusive when it comes to describing a city's population. The Celtics name does a pretty good job though.

The Knicks are named after Father Knickerbocker, a city mascot of sorts that dates back to the days when the city was named New Amsterdam. The character was popularized in the early 1800s by Washington Irving and ultimately was adopted as a term to describe the city's aristocracy. Not as cool as working class Irish; I get it. But no opinion poll that I write where New York and Boston are tied will give the tiebreaker to Boston. The New York New Yorkers finish in ninth; the Boston Bostonians finish tenth.

8. Indiana Pacers
The American Basketball Association had some pretty good team names. Of the four franchises absorbed into the NBA as part of the NBA/ABA merger, three are in my top eight. The other one, the Nets, are not. The Indiana Pacers are the first of three consecutive former ABA franchises. I love the Pacers name because there is a dual meaning (just like the less impressive Thunder nickname).

There are two kinds of famous sporting races held in Indiana. The first and most famous is the Indianapolis 500 held annually at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Every one of those races has a pace car, which leads the field to the starting line. The second is a little known (at least to me outside of Indiana) horse racing tradition featuring harness racing pacers. Could the name be better? Sure, it could and it definitely causes mascot issues for the team. But it's better than most.

7. San Antonio Spurs
How scary is a spur? Well I think the answer is not very, unless you are a horse or in a fight with a dude using a spur as a weapon and you are (a) unarmed and (b) unable or unwilling to outrun him. But the Spurs name is perfect for a Texas team and it blows away the other two Texas franchises, the Mavericks and Rockets. There's an outlaw imagery about Texas more than any other state so I think the name works perfectly for a Lone Star State franchise, even if it is a clothing accessory of sorts.

6. Denver Nuggets
The first recorded gold find in what is now the state of Colorado was reported in 1850, when Lewis Ralston, a settler bound for California, dipped his pan into a river and discovered gold. I think if I had found some gold in a river on my way somewhere, I would have stuck around to see what else I could find but for whatever reason, Ralston did not. Instead he returned eight years later sparking the first of several gold rushes to Colorado. Denver had a small one that same year which ended quickly when prospectors determined there just wasn't a whole lot of gold around Denver.

There have been several Denver Nuggets teams over the years. The first was an AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) team founded in 1932. They were followed by an NBL franchise 80 years after the Pike's Peak Gold Rush. The present Nuggets came into existence in 1974 when the ABA's Denver Rockets switched nicknames in anticipation of an NBA/ABA merger (can't have two teams with the same name after all). I like the Nuggets nickname. It's not exactly fearsome but it's uniquely Denver. Good enough for sixth place anyway.

5. New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans have played exactly one season in the NBA under their current name. Before the 2013-2014 season they were inappropriately named the Hornets (stay tuned for why it was inappropriate). When the franchise announced the decision to change the team name to the Pelicans, state bird of Louisiana by the way, they drew some fire from some folks. I mean who's going to be afraid of a Pelican?

At the time of the initial name change announcement, I wrote about how impressed I was with the team's decision to change it's name without a relocation effort. I remain as impressed, if not more so, today. Last January, I actually had the Knicks and Nuggets as better location specific nicknames; I may have re-considered since then. I just think it takes balls to do something that had only happened twice before in NBA history. And for those folks who think pelicans are not fearsome, ask the woman in the picture above. I love the Pelicans name!

4. Chicago Bulls
This past summer, I took a trip to Madrid and went to see a bullfight (however one-sided that turned out to be). Until then I didn't really understand how powerful and scary a bull can be, even one with a clear disadvantage to armed men who outnumber the creature. After that experience, one of the last things I want to be chased by is a bull. I can't imagine why anyone would consider running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain each year. I assume some of the folks in the photograph above might have regretted their decision to do so.

If there's a city with an NBA franchise that deserves the Bulls nickname, it's Chicago, so it's appropriate that their team carries that name. From the end of the Civil War to the early 1920's, more meat (mostly pigs and cattle) was processed in the city of Chicago than any other city in the world. No other American city is more identified with cattle slaughter (is that a good thing?) than the windy city. The Bulls name both reflects the history of the city and it ends up being way more than the city name with some arbitrary animal. Take that, Stuart Pritchard.

So I guess these guys are the original 76ers, right?
3. Philadelphia 76ers
The original Phildelphia NBA franchise was called the Warriors, who now reside in Oakland, California under the Golden State name. The folks that moved the Syracuse Nationals to the City of Brotherly Love in 1963 and renamed the team had a better idea.

No city except maybe Boston (and then only a maybe) was more important to the original 13 colonies' declaration of independence from Britain and the subsequent Revolutionary War. The Declaration of Independence document was signed there, Benjamin Franklin called the city home and the first Continental Congress was established there. Heck, if it hadn't been for slave owners in the south, Philadelphia might have become the capital of our nation. This was a tight call with the Bulls for the three spot but I'm giving the nod to Philly, despite the fact that a bull is way scarier than an 18th century American aristocrat with a pen.

2. Portland Trailblazers
One of the stories I love the most about American history is the expansion of the country west to the Pacific. From Lewis and Clark's search for the northwest passage to the annexation of parts of Mexico to the discovery of gold in California and Colorado to the settlement of vast tracts of available land in places like Oklahoma. I can't imagine how scary and wonderful expanding our nation west was for the people who did it in search of a better life for their families.

One of the most famous journeys west by regular people was the settlement of Oregon by the people who traveled to that territory via the Oregon Trail. The Trail connects Missouri to Oregon and is 2,200 miles long. I find it amazing that 400,000 people made the journey by foot and horse and wagon over an unpaved trail through sometimes hostile wilderness in a forty year span from about 1830 to about 1870. The Portland NBA franchise was another of the many named by public contest. The original winner of that contest was Pioneers, which works just great, but is shared by the nearby Lewis and Clark College. Trail Blazers finished second but won by disqualification of sorts. I like Trail Blazers better; I like it so much that I think it's second to only one other name.

1. Charlotte Hornets
I can't believe that any ranking system I created has the Charlotte Hornets at the number one spot but that's just what's happened here. Let me say it here so it's clear: I LOVE the Hornets name. I think it represents the very best of what a sports franchise name should be. It's ferocious, you can make a cute mascot out of it for the kids and it's location specific in a very obscure but very measureable and relevant way. This is a legit first place finish; I'm not just giving the Hornets a bump for ditching the Bobcats name a couple of months ago. Although honestly, they might have finished 30th with the old name.

As of this past spring, there have been two Charlotte Hornets franchises. The first was established as an expansion franchise in 1988 but split town for New Orleans in 2002 under a cloud of shadiness by the then owner, George Shinn. When the team headed south to the Crescent City, they kept the name for a bit until they decided that the Hornets name wasn't for them (see 5 above) and gave it up. Major props to Michael Jordan (did I really just write that?) for picking it up instantly and moving quickly to get the name back in the Queen City.

The original Hornets nickname (surprise, surprise!) was the result of a contest to name the team. I know, right? It's so surprising! Contests have yielded some crappy team names over the years (see 19 in Part 2). But this one is truly brilliant, plus if there were no contest here, we'd be rooting against the Charlotte Spirit. During the Revolutionary War, the British commander Lord Cornwallis referred to the city as a "veritable hornets' nest of rebellion" which inspired the name of a minor league baseball team in the city which was established in 1901. The name was later used for a World Football League team. Despite the borrowed or stolen name, this nickname wins my NBA team name rank.

So that's it. I'm still in disbelief that the Charlotte Hornets won anything I put my name to but that's the way it is. And since it's August 25 today, I think I can declare my project to rank all 30 NBA team nicknames a success. Now I have to think of something to do next August.

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