August 29, 2013

NBA Mascot Rank, Part 5

So after a month's worth of weekly blogging about NBA mascots, it has come to this: the fifth and final part culminating in the crowning of a mascot champion. At this point, all the mascots left score really really high on the appearance and relevance scales. This last six is without doubt a good looking group and they are clearly representing their franchise name or location. The separation between sixth and first will be subtle but I'll do my best to explain my choices. Hopefully it will make sense. We'll start down south.

6: Harry The Hawk, Atlanta Hawks
In contrast to Major League Baseball and the National Football League which abound in bird nicknamed teams (three in MLB; five in the NFL), the NBA boasts a single franchise with a bird mascot and the Hawks are it. The National Hockey League, by the way, has zero ever since the Thrashers left Atlanta and headed north to become the second incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets. What is it with Atlanta and birds? A couple of years ago they had the Hawks, Thrashers and Falcons. Doesn't matter I guess. 

As a mascot, I think Harry does the birds of the world and the city of Atlanta proud. He's clearly a bird (I'm not sure I'm qualified to comment on subtleties of bird of prey mascot costumes but I believe he's a hawk) and he has the Hawks' color scheme down to a tee. Other than being alliterative, his name is nothing special but it's better than some of his colleagues'. For me, Harry's a top six mascot because of all mascots, I'm believing there's some ferocity in his appearance. I think it's the eyebrows.

5: Rocky The Mountain Lion, Denver Nuggets
Whoever runs (or ran) the virtual Mascot Hall of Fame doesn't agree with me on much when it comes to NBA mascots' excellence. I am placing four of the Hall's five NBA inductees at numbers seven, 14, 16 and 21 in this countdown. But when it comes to the Nuggets' mascot Rocky, we are in agreement. This is a top five mascot for sure.

The great thing for me about Rocky is his all pervasive relevance. He's clearly not a nugget (however you would represent the actual nickname of Denver's franchise I don't know) but the concept of a mountain lion named Rocky in a city deep in the Rocky Mountains is awesome. He's also a great looking mascot and I love the shoes.

4: Bango, Milwaukee Bucks
I have to say the Milwaukee Bucks don't have a whole lot going for themselves lately. They lost their two marquee free agents in the offseason, they have won one division title since the 1985-1986 season and they haven't won an NBA championship since 1971. Admittedly they had a pretty good run before in the 1970s and 1980s, winning 12 division championships in a 16 year span but the last 16 or so years have been less than fruitful (no comments about my Wizards here please).

But if there's a bright spot in Milwaukee, it's Bango. Just like Rocky at the five spot, Bango looks great and represents his franchise superbly, this time through actually being what the franchise mascot is (a buck) while managing to avoid the Santa's reindeer look that could have conceivably tripped him up. Besides scoring high on relevance and appearance, Bango's strongest asset is his name which comes from longtime Bucks play by play announcer Eddie Doucette who used the phrase on air whenever a Bucks player connected on a long range basket. I love that the Bucks honor someone who called games for 16 years for the franchise. The name puts Bango ahead of Rocky and into the number four slot.

3: Benny The Bull, Chicago Bulls
For years when I was a New York Knicks fan, I hated the Chicago Bulls and everything associated with their franchise. It would have been unthinkable at that time for me to have ranked anything associated with this team as high as third. I would have tried to mock their logo (which is actually really pretty good) or their stupid alternate pinstripe uniforms (which are worthy of mocking) or found some other way to tear them down. Heck, I would have probably brought up Benny's rap sheet as a way of ranking him lower in a mascot rank.

But times have changed, I root for the Bulls in the playoffs and the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat have settled in to the Bulls' old spot in my life so Benny gets the bronze medal here. Except for the alliteration, the name's not awesome but he's clearly a bull and he's very red, which I think is perfect for that animal. But let's face it here, Benny's appearance is the reason he's so high. Rocky and Bango both have better names. Benny just looks better.

2: Stuff The Magic Dragon, Orlando Magic
If you had asked me a year ago who I thought was the second best mascot in the NBA, no way would I have picked Stuff. But looking at all 30 mascots in a comprehensive fashion this summer really revealed Stuff to be an outstanding choice at the two spot. It is admittedly difficult to make a mascot that represents magic (or heat or thunder for that matter) but I think whoever designed this thing pulled it off.

While the Magic website's story of the franchise name doesn't point the origin of the name at nearby Walt Disney World, I'm pretty confident that place was a pretty strong influence. And Stuff looks like he'd be right at home there. There's no question he looks magical and unlike any dragon I have seen before, sort of an updated Phillie Fanatic for central Florida (I know there are folks in Philadelphia shuddering at this statement).

But as good as Stuff looks, there's no question in my mind that the name puts him here at the overall runner up spot. Notwithstanding Ben Stiller's likely true accusation in Meet The Parents, Puff The Magic Dragon is still a kids' song to me and applying that name to the Magic mascot with the small alteration in his name to relate to basketball works perfectly.

1: G Wiz, Washington Wizards
Just so you understand, this is not a TOTAL homer pick. I really do think G Wiz is one of the best mascots in the NBA. Maybe I'm too close like I am with most things Wizards but I think he represents our franchise nickname perfectly, even though he's obviously more muppet wizard than human wizard. I can admit he looked a lot more like a wizard in the early days of me being a season ticket holder when he still sported his beard and cape but he doesn't lack anything by losing them. Maybe he would lose his wizardly look if he lost his hat but I don't think that will ever happen.

I also think despite being covered in blue fur (thank God they didn't switch the fur to red when they rebranded the franchise in 2011) and being utterly unrecognizable as any sort of animal or creature of myth that G Wiz is a handsome mascot. The new uniforms and change to red gloves and shoes improve his look immensely but then again, changing from the Wizards' 1997-2011 uniforms would help anyone or anything look better. And finally there's the name, which is pretty much perfect. It rolls off the tongue like the antiquated saying it is but works really well. Much more mellifluous than Stuff The Magic Dragon. Congratulations, G Wiz! Number one in my book of mascots every day.

So that's it. This countdown has lasted five Fridays and now we are now only 29 days from the opening of training camp. This at least kept my mind occupied in August. Can't wait until September 28!

August 23, 2013

NBA Mascot Rank, Part 4

So here we are at part four of my mascot rankings on the fourth Friday of August 2013. By now, I think we are finally into mascots who are clearly relevant to the teams they represent and for sure either look good or have cool names. We're not quite in the inner circle of mascot royalty; that group comes next week in the fifth and final part of this countdown. We are going to spend a lot of time in the Western Conference today as we count down 12 through 7. Let's get right to it.

12: Crunch, Minnesota Timberwolves
Of all the animal mascots in the NBA, Crunch might be the most realistic, which scores big points with me. This thing actually looks like a semi-credible wolf. Not like he'd be putting fear into me while stalking Liam Neeson in The Grey but if I were lacking my glasses and getting a little senile like 30 years from now, I might actually be shocked to see a wolf roaming around the Target Center. And he's clearly relevant, right? I mean it's a wolf for a team named the Timberwolves.

I'll pass on the name though. Crunch? Crunching bones? Crunch time? Good enough for the top dozen but not super excited. I realize Moondog's continuing to get screwed here. Too bad. Let's move on.

11: Champ, Dallas Mavericks
There are some folks out there who claim that the Mavericks' choice of a horse mascot is inappropriate; that the term maverick only really applies to a calf. Maverick is a word used in the southwestern United States to describe an unbranded range animal. Mavericks were unowned property, able to be claimed by the first person who branded the animal and were admittedly usually cattle. However, there are a few references online to the term maverick applying to a horse so I'm giving the Mavericks the benefit of the doubt here; I may be doing the wrong thing by allowing this but they beat the Heat two years ago in the Finals so they get some allowance for that.

Accepting the horse as an appropriate mascot, Champ looks pretty good. He's clearly a horse or probably more accurately his head clearly resembles a horse and graphically he works pretty well. If this had been three years ago, I would have had real issue with the name Champ since at that time the Mavericks never had been champions. But since 2011, the name is more than appropriate. Thumbs up for this mascot.

10: Slamson, Sacramento Kings
There's a total love-hate thing going on for me with this mascot. On simply an appearance basis, there's no way Slamson should rank as high as 10th in this or any other countdown. It's just not a good look. It's barely obvious that it's a lion, perhaps a little less believable than Bert Lahr's cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz. I totally realize that the cowardly lion had the benefit of makeup and not having to do backflip dunks in front of thousands of people but The Wizard of Oz was also made in 1939 for crying out loud. Surely this mascot could look a little better given the 74 years that have transpired since '39.

But on a name and relevance basis, Slamson's pretty cool. The relevance is obviously based on the Kings name translating to king of the jungle. Alright, good choice. I'm a believer. Samson's a great name choice for a lion because in the Bible, Samson's encounter with a lion is an important event in his life. I realize now we are one degree of separation from King but I'm still believing. Finally, I like the small alteration of Samson to Slamson to tie it all back to basketball. Terrible looking mascot but I get the name and relevance. It works for me.

9: Hooper, Detroit Pistons
Just like Slamson, I find the Pistons' mascot, Hooper, very appealing in two of my three evaluation criteria. Unlike Slamson, whose name I find awesome, Hooper's name sucks. I mean, OK, it's relevant to basketball but the name could be applied to a mascot anywhere in the country with any other team nickname and it would be no less or more relevant.

On the positive side, I do find a horse mascot to be relevant in Detroit and here I'm making a (not too far fetched) leap of faith from Pistons to cars to horsepower to horses. The Pistons' ugliest uniforms ever in the early 2000s featured a horse so I don't think I'm making a blind leap here. I also love the appearance of Hooper. In fact, I believe I'd feel comfortable saying that Hooper is maybe the best looking mascot in the NBA. He's well designed and straddles the line between real horse and cartoon like horse pretty well. Despite all that praise, Hooper only finishes ninth.

8: Rumble The Bison, Oklahoma City Thunder
Animal mascots abound in the NBA. There are cats of every size, a few bears, a mixed pack of dogs, a couple of horses, a cow, a bird, a deer and a gorilla. Are any of those animals cooler than a Bison? I think not. I remember my excitement in Yellowstone National Park when I saw my first wild bison. And while Rumble the Bison doesn't come close to that experience, having a bison for a mascot is pretty damn cool. I'm almost jealous. Almost!

So not withstanding the coolness of the bison (which let's face it is the reason for the number eight spot), Rumble is an OK looking mascot and he's clearly relevant to the history of Oklahoma. He also ties in pretty well with the hints of native American motifs in the Thunder's logo and color scheme. The existence of several native American tribes was pretty much tied wholeheartedly to the buffalo. I also like the name a lot. Rumble evokes the sound of the bison herds running across the plains but clearly hits high on the word association with the team's nickname.

7: The Coyote, San Antonio Spurs
OK, so I know I ranted about the name of Toronto's mascot "The Raptor" because of the utter lack of creativity in its name. So how can I rank a mascot called "The Coyote" so high? Isn't that just a little hypocritical? The answer is no, and I can explain.

First, the name of the franchise is not the San Antonio Coyotes so making the leap from the franchise name to a regionally recognizable animal gets the Spurs some points here. I realize it is near impossible to make a mascot out of an actual spur, but that didn't stop the Rockets picking bear or the Pacers and Trail Blazers coming up with a cat. At least the Spurs picked an animal relevant to the state of Texas where the franchise is located.

Secondly, The Coyote is missing the Barney factor that haunts The Raptor. Granted, this coyote isn't going to put any fear into opponents much more than Toronto's mascot but at least I don't have "I love you, you love me..." going through my head when I see it (you're singing that song now, aren't you?). 

But finally, and most importantly, The Coyote is credited with inventing the t-shirt cannon. It's true. The t-shirt cannon is so important to the daily lives of mascots in getting fans fired up for free crap, that this reason more than any other is why The Coyote is not only 11 spots ahead of The Raptor, but also gets the seventh spot, ahead of arguably stronger competition. He's a pioneer like no other mascot. 'Nuff said.

One more part to go. Remaining teams in alphabetical order: Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards.

August 16, 2013

NBA Mascot Rank, Part 3

This post is the third part of my five part series ranking the mascots of all 30 NBA teams on three criteria: name, relevance and appearance. So far I've covered the teams with no mascots and those with irrelevant or puzzling mascots, in addition to some honorable mentions. This halfway point post covers those that are clearly relevant to either their team nicknames or cities but which somehow have one or more fatal flaws. By the end of this post I think we start to see something approaching mascot brilliance, with one clearly clever missed opportunity clouded by the mascot's own alter ego. Or something like that. This time we start north of the border.

18: The Raptor, Toronto Raptors
One of my favorite quotes from the movie Jurassic Park comes from Jeff Goldblum's character Dr. Ian Malcolm. When discovering exactly the extent to which dinosaurs had been created at Jurassic Park, Malcolm famously tells John Hammond, the park's creator, "your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." I often feel this way about the Toronto Raptors nickname. I realize that dino-fever was sweeping the nation when the Raptors joined the NBA in the mid-1990s but come on...there's no better nickname you can think of for your team? They really were so excited that they could pick the Raptors as their name that they didn't stop to think about whether they should.

OK, so I know I'm ranting about the name of the team and not addressing the mascot but for me, there are a number of teams whose names so handicap their mascots that the things really have no chance whatsoever of succeeding. Case no. 1: The Raptor. I get this mascot. It's a dinosaur and the franchise is named after a dinosaur. Admittedly, this mascot is a little happier (think Barney) than the pack hunting, door opening villain raptors in Jurassic Park so it doesn't really strike fear into the hearts of men or opponents any more than the Raptors team ever has. And it looks OK. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the appearance of the costume. But the name...ouch! The Raptor? Didn't spend any time thinking that one up did they? Time for a new name and mascot.

17: Rufus T. Lynx, Charlotte Bobcats
Speaking of teams with awful nicknames, the Charlotte Bobcats are the NBA's newest franchise and they didn't manage to come up with a name much better than the Raptors. They joined the league in 2004 after the city's former team, the Hornets, fled for New Orleans to try to succeed where the Jazz could not. The effort to name the latest incarnation of an NBA team in North Carolina included polling local residents on three names: the Bobcats, Dragons and Flight. The team's owner, Bob Johnson, ignored the results of the poll (picking Flight) and chose the Bobcats, fueling speculation that he picked the name so the franchise would be named after him. I'm on board with this speculation 100% and for the last decade, the city of Charlotte has been stuck with a franchise name slightly worse than the performance of the team itself.

So just like the Raptor, the Bobcats' mascot, Rufus T. Lynx, is given a handicap that is almost impossible to overcome. Admittedly, the nickname's not so atrocious that someone couldn't come up with a mascot that approached respectability. But then the folks running this team had to go pick orange as the team's primary color and so they are left with a bright orange cat as their mascot. So on the relevance and appearance scale, Rufus is OK; he's clearly a bobcat, even though I don't think there has ever been an orange one, not even through genetic mutation. And the name's nothing to brag about either, although not naming him "The Bobcat" gets him past The Raptor to the number 17 spot. Let's move on. It's only getting better from here, thank God.

16: Go The Gorilla, Phoenix Suns
If there's a mascot which most knowledgable NBA fans would label as an icon, it might be Go the Gorilla or the Phoenix Suns Gorilla (I confess I didn't know its name was Go until I started writing this). He was inducted into the questionably prestigious Mascot Hall of Fame in its inaugural class along with the Phillie Phanatic and the San Diego Chicken so there are at least a few folks out there who are showing the Gorilla some respect.

But I don't get it. I understand that it's difficult to come up with a Sun mascot (although the Jimmy Dean sun would be an interesting addition to any NBA halftime show in my opinion) but I don't see the connection to a gorilla. I also don't like the name or the costume. It's clearly a guy in a 1970s era gorilla suit. I think I'm influenced by outside forces and peer pressure by putting Go at number 16. I should be ashamed of myself but that's where he stays for now.

15: Grizz The Bear, Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies' bear, Grizz the Bear, is the first of two consecutive bear mascots in my ranking representing franchises who desperately need to change their names. In one of these two cases, the name change would make the bear mascot more relevant; in Grizz's case, it would make him extinct.  Of all the terrible nicknames in the NBA, the Grizzlies are in my top five franchises who should change their names along with the Lakers (not relevant to L.A.), Raptors (stupid name), Bobcats (stupid name) and Jazz (love it in New Orleans, not so much in Utah). The Grizzlies' name worked great in Vancouver, where the team started out. It just does not work in Memphis.

Having said all that, there is no question that having a bear for a mascot in Memphis is relevant to the franchise's nickname. The name Grizz is weak at best but as we've already seen, there are some really dumb mascot names in the NBA (see number 18 above) and at least he's not just called The Bear (I know I'm beating this point to death). But is this thing really a bear? It looks like a cross between a pig and a character from Planet of the Apes who needs a haircut. I guess I'm giving the Grizzlies the benefit of the doubt on this one and accepting that the mascot is a bear and squeaking Grizz into the top 15. I could easily be second guessed on this one.

14: Jazz Bear, Utah Jazz
On to the next bear...

Now THIS is a real bear mascot. Other than the fact that it's riding a motorcycle (note Clutch the Rockets Bear is also riding a motorcycle in Part 2 of my countdown - curious!) we are without doubt looking at a bear here. It doesn't even need the "Bear" headband around it's noggin. I'd love to see that accessory shipped to Memphis; It would help me believe Grizz is actually a bear. For me, Jazz Bear scores high on the appearance and relevance scale because I believe (without checking here) that there are bears in Utah.

The Jazz Bear name sucks though. This poor franchise has the most irrelevant nickname in pro sports. There is absolutely no excuse for keeping the Jazz name in Utah. Why did anyone ever think it made any sense not to leave the name behind in New Orleans. Appearance is enough here to nudge Jazz Bear ahead of Grizz the Bear and into 14th place.

13:  Sir C. C. and Moondog, Cleveland Cavaliers
Other than being glued to the screen during NBA season and never missing an episode of Game Of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire, I don't watch a lot of television in my spare time. But when I do, I enjoy watching competitive cooking shows (Top Chef, The Next Iron Chef, etc.). Stay with me here just a few more sentences. Every so often in challenges on those shows, a competitor makes two or three dishes when they were charged with making only one. Inevitably, the judges on those shows evaluate that competitor not on the best of the two dishes but on both or, in some cases, the worst. I'm doing that here with the Cavaliers. And I SWEAR it's not because this team beat the Wizards back to back to back in the playoffs recently.

The Cavaliers have two mascots and for the life of me, I can't figure out who is the primary mascot. Admittedly, I've never been to a Cavs game (although I'd love to make it to Cleveland one year for a Wizards game) so my research into this topic has been shallow at best. The Cavs' first mascot is a swashbuckling knight (presumably referencing the cavaliers in King Charles I of England's cavalry) complete with sword and feathered hat shown in the team's other marketing materials; the other mascot is a dog. The cavalier, Sir C.C. (pictured at the top of this post) is terrible; he looks like he has a child's head stuck on top of a way too muscled 17th century horseman's body. Other than being a clear embodiment of the team's nickname, I'm just not on board with this mascot.

The dog (pictured immediately above) on the other hand, is freaking genius as a double entendre. I'm giving the Cavs the benefit of the doubt here and assuming it's a cavalier spaniel, although it looks nothing like a cavalier spaniel other than clearly being a dog. Animal mascots are generally more fun than people based mascots so for me, the Cavs have pulled something off here. But it only gets better. The dog's name is Moondog, which is a reference to Cleveland DJ Alan Freed (nicknamed Moondog) who was a pioneer disk jockey in the early 1950s and is supposedly the originator of the term "rock and roll." There are layers here and I love it. But because the waters are muddied, I'm putting the Cavaliers at the number 13 spot. And again, I SWEAR it's not because this team beat the Wizards back to back to back in the playoffs recently.

Well, maybe a little. :)

August 9, 2013

NBA Mascot Rank, Part 2

I know what you are thinking, Sly. I'd be pissed about the Knight too.
Last week I posted the first part of my NBA mascot rank, an all too detailed ranking of all things mascot in my favorite sports league. That countdown continues in this Part 2, which deals with mascots who are just barely making the minimum amount of effort to be a mascot or are confusingly relevant/irrelevant. We start in the northeast.

24: Lucky the Leprechaun, Boston Celtics
Of all the teams that actually have a mascot, the Celtics mascot, Lucky the Leprechaun, is the absolute worst and therefore ranks lowest of all the primary mascots in my countdown. Memo to the Celtics: dressing a guy in clothes with no mask, no fake fur or outrageous costume does not constitute a mascot. It's just a dude in a green costume and a sometimes beard.

All the tradition and pride that comes with the Celtics organization just isn't enough to compensate for this guy walking around looking for his pot of gold. He even appears in the media guide as the mascot. There's no illusion here and it's just no fun. Marginally better than having no mascot but hands down the worst primary mascot in the NBA. But not by much...

23: BrooklyKnight, Brooklyn Nets
Before the 2012-2013 NBA season, the Nets moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn in what was supposed to be some sort of glorious return to the city where they started some 40 plus years earlier as part of the now defunct ABA. As part of the move, the Nets rebranded their entire franchise, which included everything from their uniforms to their mascot.

When the team was located in New Jersey, the Nets' mascot was a silver fox, whatever that is. This has to be one of the more puzzling mascots of all time. When I think of the Nets franchise, whether it's in New Jersey or in New York, I do not think of a fox. I don't know how I would necessarily create a mascot to represent a team called the Nets, but a fox wouldn't spring to mind in any way. So when the Nets left Jersey after 35 seasons there, they understandably left Sly the Silver Fox to fend for himself in the swamps of northern New Jersey. They had to replace him with something more relevant and cool, right?

Wrong! Instead of a silver fox, the Nets' mascot last year was a knight. But not just a regular knight. The new Nets' mascot is a superhero sort of futuristic knight. Huh?? Yes, that's an appropriate reaction. Totally not relevant. I generally like what the Nets did in re-branding themselves. I think their black and white road unis are really cool (even if their homes look like some sort of upgraded junior high school gym clothes); I love the updated parquet floor; and I even think the name of their dance squad, the Brooklynettes, is really inventive. But I can't see the knight sticking around long. Brooklyn's supposed to be gritty, right? The knight's not.

22: Burnie, Miami Heat
Oh, God...really?!?! What on Earth is this thing?

How do I start to explain the Miami Heat mascot? It's an orange flame with a basketball nose and white hair? Yep, that's about it. I'm sincerely hoping the Heat got a discount for this thing. How did the advertising executives paid to come up with a mascot pitch this to the team? I can only imagine them saying what I said at the beginning of this paragraph in a very guilty sheepish way knowing that they cooked this thing up the morning after a South Beach bender in about 15 minutes. They must have gone straight back to the bar after selling this bill of goods for a celebration. At least they got a better name than the mascot itself. Burnie. Get it? It's a real name (Bernie) but also a fire reference ("Burn"-ie). Cool, right? Umm...maybe not. It's a commentary on how bad most mascots are that the Heat finish 22nd here.

21: Clutch the Rockets Bear, Houston Rockets

Clutch is the first of three consecutive mascots in my ranking that beg the question "What does that animal have to do with the city or franchise it represents?" And it's a legitimate question. I'm shaking my head here.

Clutch was invented after the Rockets won their first NBA Championship in 1994, a response to a headline in the Houston Chronicle earlier that postseason declaring Houston "Choke City" after the Rockets blew a game when up 20. So naturally after the team brought home the city's first NBA title, the impulse is to create a mascot to show those bastards over at the Chronicle, right? I get the nickname; it's not bad. But a bear? Do they even have bears in Houston?? And one that looks like this? It looks like a happier version of Ted from the movie of the same name. I don't understand it at all.

Sorry, Clutch, you may be in the now defunct Mascot Hall of Fame (a dubious distinction at best), but in my book you are good enough to finish one notch ahead of Burnie. Not doing it for me.

20: Boomer, Indiana Pacers
Next up in the animal-mascots-with-no-relevance-to-the-franchise-or-city category: Boomer the cat, the Indiana Pacers' mascot.

By all accounts, the Indiana Pacers were named either for Indiana's famous pacer horses or for the Indianapolis 500's pace car. So I'm thinking either race car or horse, right? Nope. The Pacers have a cat. OK, I admit, unlike bears in Houston, there are actually cats in Indiana. That's probably the only reason the Pacers finish ahead of the Rockets in this ranking.

But I think the Pacers really missed an opportunity for a double entendre mascot here a la the Cleveland Cavaliers mascot (just wait until next week). There was potential for something really clever here with a horse mascot. Instead, the cat misses the mark. Next!

19: Blaze the Trail Cat, Portland Trail Blazers
Another cat? Really?

The Portland Trail Blazers, in my opinion, have one of the coolest names in the NBA. The franchise is named for the settlers that came to Oregon via the Oregon Trail. Not a very obvious reference for the casual observer but what an awesome nickname.

I think the Trail Blazers were in a tough spot mascot-wise with this nickname which is probably why they finish one notch ahead of the Pacers with their non-relevant feline mascot. Much like the Nets, I have a difficult time imagining a mascot representing the team. Dressing someone up like a settler or a Conestoga wagon just doesn't seem to make any sense. They finish ahead of the Pacers here because they have a more difficult task so defaulting to a cat seems more forgivable.

But that name...I don't know. Boomer's not much better but "Blaze the Trail Cat"? Come on. The Blazers close out the bottom 40% in my ranking.

August 6, 2013

The 2013-2014 NBA Schedule

The NBA 2013-2014 schedule was released earlier today which made this Tuesday an exciting Tuesday in a month of total yawners from an NBA perspective. The schedule was first announced and dissected live at 6 p.m. on NBA TV, a not so exciting almost infomercial but something I've watched in years past. I got home a few minutes before 6 but as I don't have NBA TV (astonishing, I know) since I switched to Fios, I spent a half hour wolfing down a tuna melt and about a half a bag of Utz Salt and Vinegar potato chips (the vinegariest and therefore best salt and vinegar chips) before sitting down and poring over what I had been waiting all day to get to. I realize my restraint in waiting that 30 minutes here is remarkable. You can tell me that next time you see me.

Sadly, but true-ly, I schedule my life from November to April around the Wizards' schedule so in addition to getting into the ins and outs of how the schedule might affect the team's fortunes this year, understanding how the schedule lays out is especially important for me to plan my late fall, winter and early spring. After 13 years of being a season ticket holder, I'm an expert at reviewing an NBA team's schedule which is unfortunately a not very marketable skill. Here's a lucky seven what I get out of the schedule and what I'm already looking forward to.

1. The Next Game
For the eighth time in the last ten years, the Wizards open the season on the road, this time the day before Hallowe'en in Auburn Hills against the Detroit Pistons. Auburn Hills is a full 32 miles from Detroit, in case you care about that sort of stuff. That's the next game; the game I have metaphorically circled on my calendar. I need things in life to look forward to and what better than game one when my team is undefeated.

Following that game, the Wizards open their home season two days later on Friday, November 1 against the Philadelphia 76ers so I'll be itching to get into Verizon Center when November rolls around. I like these first two games. Neither the Pistons nor the 76ers made the playoffs last year and each team has experienced significant roster turnover this offseason. I don't want to get too optimistic here but it looks to me like we could be 2-0. OK, I know I'm being too optimistic. Talk to me about it on November 2.

2. Tons O' Friday / Saturday Games
If there's one thing I've loved about recent Wizards seasons, it's the number of Friday and Saturday home games. And let's face it, despite some great wins the last few years, the overall results of our play have not been something to love. This year is no exception. Of the Wizards 41 home games, seven are on Friday and 13 are on Saturday. That's about half of the home slate packed into two days of the week when you don't have to get up the next morning and go to work. And there's something else: Friday and Saturday games sell on the secondary market, which allows me to reduce the cost of my season ticket commitment just a little. Double bonus!

3. The First Dozen
Last year the Wizards started the season 0-12, the worst start in franchise history. Last year's first 12 games weren't all that tough on paper. There were as many home games as road games (six of each if you need that math doing for you) and only six were against teams which ended up making the playoffs. But the Wizards couldn't pull out a win, even considering two of the first 12 were against the lowly Charlotte Bobcats.

The expectation for performance in this year's first 12 games has to be better. Hell, it can't possibly get any worse. But it looks like a tougher road. Eight games are on the road including a three game swing through Oklahoma and Texas and four games are against teams expected to go deep into the playoffs (Miami, Oklahoma City and San Antonio on the road; Brooklyn at home). Of the remaining opponents, we get a potentially much improved Cleveland Cavaliers team twice and a rejuvenated Minnesota team. Things don't look good but I think we need at least five wins in our first 12. I've already given the first two games to us as wins. Let's see how we do. Again, it can't be worse than zero wins.

4. Teams We Play Three Times
Each team in the NBA plays every team in the opposite conference twice, which makes up 30 of the 82 games in the season. That leaves 52 games against the other 14 teams in the teams' own conference, which works out to four games against ten of the teams and just three against the other four.

This year, the Wizards luck out a little bit. Of the 15 teams in the Eastern Conference, most basketball experts place five of those teams squarely in the playoffs: the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks. Of those five teams, the Wizards play only the Heat four times (teams have to play teams in their own division four times), meaning we get a pass on a fourth game against most of the supposed strongest teams in the East. Every game counts. We may need a W or two at the end of the year accumulated by avoiding one of these four opponents.

5. Two Weeks Off For Christmas
For me, not for the Wizards.

Every year, I face a dilemma at Christmas: stay in town and spend time watching the Wizards at Verizon Center or spend time out of time with my family. Usually the family wins or I at least split the difference by missing one game around the holidays. This year, I don't have to make that choice as the Wizards are away from home from December 15th through the 27th. Merry Christmas to me!

6. The MLK Day Game Is Back
One of the highlights of the basketball season for me is the (mostly) annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day matinee game. I love leaving work at noonish and heading downtown for some lunch with a beer or two followed by some hoops (and more beer) while everyone else is still at work. The MLK Day game takes place in the same cities every year but in Washington we skip one every four years due to the presidential inauguration (which was last year). This year's game is against the Philadelphia 76ers at 2 p.m. on January 20th. Can't wait!

7. Road Trips
One of the things I love more than almost anything else is traveling. I try to take at least one trip a year in the summer somewhere new to unwind and recharge and maybe a long weekend or two at other points during the year. In the last six years or so, an essential part of my travel itinerary has been taking road trips to see Wizards away games. I clearly can't plan these trips without the Wizards' schedule.

Every year I hope for a Friday or Saturday road game in Memphis or Cleveland and once again, I am disappointed by the schedule makers at the league office in New York. But there are two weekends in March that look like ideal road trips to check out the Wizards in a new city. There are Saturday games in Philadelphia on March 1 and Milwaukee the following weekend. Both trips could be accomplished without taking time off work, are relatively inexpensive and are probably against struggling teams (translation: cheaper secondary market tickets). In case those two don't sound like ideal travel destinations in March, I'm thinking cheesesteaks and beer in addition to some hoops.

So that's it. Weeks of excitement boiled down to a few paragraphs. Next significant date: September 28 when training camp opens.

August 2, 2013

NBA Mascot Rank, Part 1

August and September are boring months for the committed NBA fan. Summer League is over, all the in demand free agents are under contract and training camp has yet to begin so we're stuck in limbo for a couple of months with little to occupy our time. Last year we were fortunate to have the Olympics to tide us over for the month of August. This year, there's only the WNBA. And let's face it, nobody watches those games.

So in an effort to keep myself occupied and to make myself feel good about keeping my blog going, I thought I'd take a look at the mascots in the NBA and see if any of them can measure up to the Wizards' excellent-in-every-way mascot, G Wiz. And if that's not blatant foreshadowing, I don't know what is. That curiosity has resulted in what will end up being a five post mascot-fest where I rank all the NBA mascots (and more) from 30 to 1. This first post deals with the concept of mascots and tallies those that don't exist or never have. Read on!

I have to confess I used to hate mascots. I saw them as unnecessary distractions for fans that were less committed than me. I cheered the University of Michigan when I was enrolled there for banning the student-created "Willy the Wolverine" mascot from Michigan Stadium. But as I've grown older, I've come to view them as part of the game experience and have actually started to have positive views of some of them. There are mascots who are genuine icons (think of baseball's Philly Phanatic or the San Diego Chicken here) but others are just downright uninspired, goofy or a complete waste of time.

Some NBA teams don't have mascots and some do. Some teams have multiple mascots or inflatable versions of their primary mascot and some teams keep switching their mascot because they can't decide what they really want. All of that makes ranking them somewhat complicated but I've managed to do it. I can tell you are already impressed. Here's how my rankings work.

When evaluating mascots, I've considered three criteria: name, relevance (either geographical or franchise nickname relevance) and appearance. Some mascots have creative names, are really relevant to their teams and look awesome. Others just don't. In my studies, I've typically only considered a team's primary mascot in my rankings with two exceptions: the Cleveland Cavaliers, because I can't figure out who their primary mascot is, and the Washington Wizards, because, well, this is a blog about my life and the Wizards. So let's get right to it. We'll start with number 30, after some honorable mentions.

Honorable Mention: Hugo T. Hornet, Charlotte Hornets
Yes, that's right...CHARLOTTE Hornets. If there's one wrong that has to be righted in the NBA's mascot world, it's that Hugo has to be restored in Carolina where he started out (this is going to occur in 2014 by the way). If the Hornets name (and consequently Hugo) still existed in the NBA, he would surely challenge for the top spot in this ranking on appearance alone, especially if he were in Charlotte where the Hornets nickname is relevant. Good thing for G Wiz this isn't being done a year later.

Hugo scores so high on relevance and appearance and those two factors more than compensate for his average name. There's no question he looks like a mascot, is clearly what he's supposed to be (a hornet) and represents the team perfectly. He's cartoony without being overly simple. There's a richness in the details here. Can't wait to see Hugo back on the court next October.

Honorable Mention: Squatch, Seattle SuperSonics
If there's a tragedy in the NBA, it's that the city of Seattle does not have an NBA team. That situation could have been righted a few months ago with the sale of the Sacramento Kings to a Seattle based investment group although that would have just transferred the NBA-less tragedy from the Emerald City down to California's capital. When the team that would become the Oklahoma City Thunder left Seattle in 2008, they left the SuperSonics name, the uniforms and the 1979 NBA Championship trophy behind for the city of Seattle. 

They also left behind the Sonics excellent mascot, Squatch, who like Hugo above, would surely be a top 10 mascot in this ranking. Squatch (short for Sasquatch, duh...) has an awesome name and he really couldn't exist anywhere else except for the Pacific northwest (I'll refrain from going into my account of how I think I saw one once in Pennsylvania; that's a story for a totally different time). He also looks just like most of us convince ourselves bigfoot looks like so he scores high in my book on name, relevance and appearance. We will likely have to wait a few more years for Squatch to re-appear. Maybe if the Bobcats/Hornets keep performing poorly enough.

Honorable Mention: Clipper Darrell, Los Angeles Clippers 
I first became aware of Clipper Darrell (real name Darrell Bailey) at NBA Summer League in probably 2008 or 2009. I was watching the Clippers play some other team (I don't remember who although I don't think it was the Wizards) and the Clips were playing miserably, just like they did pretty much every year before they drafted Blake Griffin and the NBA gifted Chris Paul for them. Between chants like "U-G-L-Y you ain't got no alibi" I heard this guy in blue and red yell out something to the effect of "Come on, show them how we play Clipper basketball." Based on the laughter which followed a muffled rejoinder from someone on the other side of Cox Pavilion, I believe it was pointed out to Darrell that the Clippers were actually playing Clipper basketball at the time. 

Among NBA super fans, Clipper Darrell (shown above with his now deceased Clippers car) is my hero. He's the epitome of the loyal-no-matter-how-the-team-performs fan. Five years ago, if there was a team that needed a change of fortune from their entire history, it was the Clippers and Darrell was the symbol of a fan base clinging to absolutely no hope whatsoever. And now thanks to Griffin and Paul, the Clips actually stand somewhat of a chance. They won their first division title ever last year and despite the Clippers organization trying to disassociate themselves with Darrell last season, he's stuck with it. Good for Darrell. I hope one day the fortunes of the Wizards will turn the way they have in Los Angeles. 

Now...enough honorable mentions. On to my rankings. 

30-26 (Tie): No Mascot, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers
No mascot means one of two things to me, either the franchise is too iconic to stoop to having a mascot or there is just no willingness to be the least bit imaginative and create one. The Lakers and Knicks clearly fit into the former category whereas the Clippers and 76ers fall into the latter. The 76ers actually have experimented with mascots, last in the form of Hip Hop, a rabbit with absolutely no value whatsoever. Hip Hop was retired or killed or whatever about two years ago and mercifully hasn't been seen since.

Now, one could clearly take the position that having no mascot in some cases is actually better than having a terrible mascot. Maybe so, and I'd totally entertain that argument but since this is my blog, that argument doesn't work this month. Well OK, it works for one team. On to number 25...

25 (Tie): No Mascot, Golden State Warriors, and G Man, Washington Wizards
In 1997, both the Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards rebranded themselves with new uniforms, new mascots and, in the case of the Washington franchise, a new nickname. I am totally convinced that the two organizations cheaped out on their rebrand and split the cost of the re-design because both franchises emerged with the exact same product. Their new jerseys looked remarkably similar, from the offset numbers on the front under their nickname tapering from a large W to a small S to the numbers on the back of the uniform which were the exact same custom designed font.

They also emerged from the rebrand effort with the same ugly mascot, a blue muscled dude wearing the terrible uniforms that the franchises likely split the cost of. The Warriors' mascot was named Thunder; the Wizards' mascot was named G Man. Since 1997, both franchises have rebranded themselves again, both adopting uniform designs similar to the uniforms the two franchises wore in the 1970s, when each won a title. When the Warriors rebranded themselves in 2010, they dumped Thunder. When the Wizards rebranded themselves in 2011, they unfortunately kept G Man.

The two franchises are tied for 25th best (or sixth worst if you prefer) in my rankings because for me on a mascot level, they are inextricably linked and nobody is going to be able to convince me the two franchises didn't collude and get a two for one deal on mascot design. You get what you pay for and these mascots honestly stink. I could have stuck the Warriors tied with the Clippers, Lakers, Knicks, Pelicans and Sixers but quite honestly, I think they deserve some credit for dumping a terrible mascot and so they sit above the other five franchises currently without mascots. The Wizards should follow the Warriors' lead and dump G Man.