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What's In A Name? How NBA Teams got their names...
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 What's In A Name? How NBA Teams got their names...
topic by A.G - 08-16-2009, 10:01 PM

Eastern Conference

Atlanta Hawks – The Hawks have been around over the years. Before Atlanta, this franchise called four other American cities home. So the team name "Hawks" has absolutely nothing to do with Atlanta or the state of Georgia. When the Buffalo Bisons moved to Moline, Illinois in 1946 they became known as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, named after the Black Hawk War that was fought mostly in the team's new state back in 1832. It's probably no coincidence that Chicago's hockey team is also named the Blackhawks. By the time the franchise was moved to Milwaukee, it was shortened to Hawks, and that name stuck through a brief stint in St. Louis and continues on today in Atlanta.

Boston Celtics – When Walter Brown decided to bring a professional basketball team to Boston in 1946 he had a tough time coming up with a team nickname. According to Celtics.com, Brown was having a discussion with a member of the Boston Garden's publicity staff in which they threw around some relatively bad ideas like "Whirlwinds" and "Unicorns" before Brown came up with "Celtics," seemingly out of nowhere. There had been a barnstorming hoops team out of New York that went by that name in the 1920s, so he liked that it was a pre-est@blished name in the basketball world, plus to this day Boston has the largest Irish population of any major city in the United States. Sixty-three years and seventeen championships later, that's still the name they're using. Hard to imagine Kevin Garnett in a Boston Unicorns jersey, right?

Charlotte Bobcats – As the NBA's most recent expansion team, many of can remember bits and pieces about the naming of the Charlotte franchise. "Bobcats" was one of three finalists, along with "Dragons" and "Flight," but it was eventually chosen not only because Robert "Bob" Johnson was the team owner, but also because bobcats are indigenous to North Carolina, evoke images of speed and agility, and tie-in with the area's NFL cat-themed team, the Carolina Panthers.

Chicago Bulls – Richard Klein, the team's first owner, kicked around a lot of ideas for his new basketball franchise before eventually arriving at "Bulls," but he knew he wanted something that sounded powerful and also tied into the city's history as the meat-packing capitol of the country. He had considered both Matadors and Toreadors as possibilities when his son Mark responded, "Dad, that's a bunch of bull," which inspired the perfect team nickname to fulfill his criteria. The Chicago Matadors do exist today, though not as symbols of strength and power—they're a group of grossly overweight men that dance and entertain during timeouts at Bulls games.

Cleveland Cavaliers – When Nick Mileti, owner and founder of the new Cleveland basketball franchise, was given an expansion team in 1970 he held a contest so the fans could choose the team nickname. "Cavaliers" was the winner, seemingly for alliterative reasons. The earliest logo was of an Englishman donning a saber.

Detroit Pistons – In the franchise's earliest days the team was based out of Fort Wayne, Indiana and was known as the Zollner Pistons. If you're wondering what the heck a Zollner Piston is, you need look no further than the team's owner at the time, a man named Frank Zollner who manufactured pistons for cars, trucks, and trains. Coincidentally, Zollner was instrumental in the creation of the NBA from smaller leagues like the BAA and NBL. When the team moved to Detroit in 1957 because Fort Wayne just wasn't going to be a profitable city, "Pistons" still seemed like a logical team name considering the Detroit's strong history in the automobile industry.

Indiana Pacers – Picking the name "Pacers" was reportedly a pretty easy decision for the six investors that bought a franchise for the ABA in 1967, mostly because the city of Indianapolis was known for harness racing and stock car racing, both of which had pacers (or a pace car in the case of the Indy 500). One of the six investors, Chuck Barnes, was the business manager of Mario Andretti and other big race car drivers, and it was his wife that suggested the name "Pacers" over dinner one night. The real debate in naming this team was whether it should be called the Indiana Pacers or the Indianapolis Pacers. Because one of the early gimmicks for the team was to play home games all over the state and not just its capitol, "Indiana" won the final vote.

Miami HEAT – Like a lot of other NBA teams, the HEAT held a contest to get ideas from fans. There were a lot of options to choose from, including Sharks, Barracudas, Beaches, Flamingos (can you imagine those uniforms?), and others. In the end, "HEAT" was chosen because the investment group just liked it best. Sometimes that's all the story there really is. Plus, you know, it can get really hot in South Beach.

Milwaukee Bucks – More than 14,000 basketball fans submitted ideas for team names in 1968, but several of those entries came back with "Bucks," even though one man from Whitefish Bay was the one that took home the prize—a brand spankin' new car. It's not hard to guess why so many Wisconsinites would've chosen that particular name since deer hunting is an extremely popular activity in that state. Plus, bucks bring to mind visions of strength and grace—not the worst qualities to expect from a basketball team.

New Jersey Nets – Originally based out of New York and known as the New York Americans in the old ABA, the franchise switched the name to "Nets" in their second year of existence. Such a change seems naturally considering it was, after all, a basketball team, however choosing that name wasn't done just because nets are the thing the basketball goes through; it was also chosen to rhyme with two other New York area sports teams—football's New York Jets, and baseball's New York Mets.

New York Knicks – The name "Knicks" is short for "Knickerbockers," which are the knee-length pants Dutch settlers wore when they originally settled the New York area in the 1600s. Over the years a character named Father Knickerbocker—a man with a cotton wig, three-pointed hat, and of course those famous pantaloons—became a symbol of New York City, so when a group of men affiliated with the new basketball franchise threw their ideas for team names into a hat, almost all of them came back "Knickerbockers." It also helped that in the mid-1800s when the original New York Knickerbockers became the first organized professional baseball team in history. The city was already familiar with the name, making "Knicks" about as close a sure thing as the franchise has ever had. Except for maybe taking Patrick Ewing with the first overall pick in 1985.

Orlando Magic – An area-wide contest brought the decision down to two names—"Magic" and "Juice." In the end a panel of local community leaders chose the former because the word magic works its way into the Orlando area in quite a few different regards. There's the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, for one, and if that weren't enough the city's tourism slogan is "Come to the Magic." While "Juice" (presumably referencing Florida orange juice) sounds more delicious, It probably would've been considerably less marketable. But I suppose handing out free Tropicana when the team scores 100 points is healthier than a Taco Bell softshell or a Big Mac.

Philadelphia 76ers – For anybody that's ever been to Philadelphia, the year 1776 is just about the most important year in that city's history. That was the year the Declaration of Independence was signed, and since Independence Hall and its Liberty Bell are the city's most recognizable symbols, naming the team the 76ers ("Sixers" for short) only made sense. That name was the result of a contest held in 1963 when the team moved to Philly, so credit a man named Walt Stahlberg for the moniker. Before moving to the City of Brotherly Love, the Sixers were based in Syracuse, New York and known as the Nationals.

Toronto Raptors – An expansion team in 1993, the Raptors held a nationwide contest to name the new franchise. Over 2,000 entries were narrowed down to ten finalists: Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs, Raptors, Scorpions, T-Rex, Tarantulas, and Terriers. Several of those are extremely lame (Terriers? That's supposed to intimidate opponents?), but the final choice—Raptors—was heavily inspired by the incredible commercial success of the film "Jurassic Park," which introduced the world to the frightening dinosaur known as the Velociraptor. Canadian basketball fans should all be thankful there wasn't a $900 million dollar movie that summer about Beavers.

Washington Wizards – Originally based in Chicago and known as the "Packers" (think meat-packing) and then the "Zephyrs" (for no reason I can understand), the team moved to Baltimore in 1963 and became known as the "Bullets," a name they'd keep for the next 34 years. There was a Baltimore Bullets team in the 1940s and 1950s, named after a nearby foundry that produced ammunition during World War II, and this new franchise revived the nickname. In 1995, however, Washington owner Abe Pollin announced an upcoming team name change as part of an anti-violence movement. He felt as though "Bullets" had attained negative undertones over the years, and that it was an inappropriate nickname, especially in the city where the President lives. A naming contest for fans resulted in "Wizards," chosen mostly because it sounded good. It beat out other finalists "Dragons," "Express," "Stallions" and "Sea Dogs."

The following 5 BX residents gave props to A.G 01seay (08-17-2009) , Danger Zone (08-19-2009) , Dee Grande (08-17-2009) , Funeral James (08-19-2009) , HEAT HOT TOPIC (Blog'd,RSS'd,Tweet'd and Facebook'd)  (08-16-2009)

29 comments for "What's In A Name? How NBA Teams got their names..."

 08-16-2009, 10:02 PMaway - #2
A.G 27 heat pts27

$36,980 | POWERFUL
Western Conference

Dallas Mavericks – James Garner, a member of the ownership group for the new Dallas franchise in 1980, played a character named "Maverick" for a popular TV Western in the late '50s and early '60s that was called, appropriately, "Maverick." The University of Texas at Arlington also uses "Mavericks" for its team nickname, so there was a bit of hullabaloo about that particular selection at the time, but now any controversy surrounding the Mavs has more to do with Mark Cuban's blog than any team name they may have chosen.

Denver Nuggets – When the ABA's new Denver franchise was dotting the i's and crossing the t's on their inaugural season, "Rockets" was the final consensus for a team nickname. That was, however, the same year that San Diego put an expansion team in the NBA, and they too chose "Rockets" as their team name. In 1974 the need to change the team name surfaced with an inevitable ABA merging with the NBA. Since there was already a Rockets franchise in place (now moved to Houston), Denver chose "Nuggets" as a reference to Colorado's mining heyday in the 1800s. Someone hoping to make their fortune out West would do so by finding gold or silver nuggets. You'd have to get a little lucky, though—a lot like Detroit taking Darko Milicic second overall in the 2003 draft so that Denver could end up with Carmelo Anthony.

Golden State Warriors – Today, "Warriors" is one of the most common and generic nicknames that exists. It's right up there with "Wildcats" and "Tigers." But when Philadelphia was awarded a franchise for the inaugural season of the BAA (the forerunner to the NBA), "Warriors" was chosen for the simple fact that there had been an earlier professional basketball team in town that went by the same name. When the franchise first moved to the Bay Area, they called San Francisco home. Eventually, however, they moved to Oakland and hoped to get the entire state of California behind the team, and so decided to go with Golden State Warriors instead of Oakland Warriors (or even just sticking with San Francisco Warriors). California is called the Golden State because 1849's gold rush.

Houston Rockets – One would a$sume that a Houston-based team named the Rockets had always been that way considering NASA's home base is located there. Ironically enough, the name "Rockets" was applied to the team during their time in San Diego. Like many other teams, this name was chosen as part of a contest, with "Rockets" winning out because it fit into San Diego's theme as "A City in Motion." Unlike some other teams that relocated and kept their nickname, this one still works. The Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies weren't quite so lucky.

Los Angeles Clippers – The team name "Braves" may have worked for this franchise when they were based in Buffalo, but when the team moved to San Diego in 1978 the new ownership group didn't think that moniker worked for their new city. The name "Clippers" was chosen as the result of a contest because San Diego was known for their beautiful and large sailing ships known by that name. In 1984 the team moved again to L.A., and this time decided to keep the old name.

Los Angeles Lakers – Admittedly, there aren't a lot of lakes in L.A., but that name wasn't brandished in the City of Angels. It came from when the team was based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a state in which there are lakes all over the place. When the team relocated in 1960 they kept the name because it was so popular, thanks in large part to the great success of NBA legend George Mikan.

Memphis Grizzlies – As an expansion team in 1995, the new Vancouver franchise decided to go with "Grizzlies" as their team name because grizzly bears are a powerful animal indigenous to British Columbia. When Memphis took over the team in 2001 they kept the name, even though Tennessee is not an area particularly known for its grizzly bear population. The current ownership group was rumored to have explored changing the name to the "Express" as part of a naming rights deal with Memphis based FedEx, however the NBA denied the move.

Minnesota Timberwolves – A contest to name Minnesota's new franchise in 1986 resulted in two finalists: the Timberwolves and the Polars. The final decision was a result of all 842 city councils in the state choosing which name they preferred. Since Minnesota has the largest population of timberwolves in the continental U.S. states and the wolf is a highly revered and featured animal at state zoos, it seemed to make more sense than "Polars" anyway. While it's certainly plenty cold in the Twin Cities during basketball season, the inevitable polar bear mascot would've been untrue to the region. From pretty much every standpoint, Timberwolves was the smartest choice. Coincidentally, the team's first logo was the result of a fan contest as well.

New Orleans Hornets – When club officials formed a committee to select the team name for the new Charlotte franchise in 1987, they came to a definitive conclusion; the team would be called the Charlotte Spirit. The good people of North Carolina hated the name (can you blame them?), so "Spirit" was dumped and, of course, a contest was held to rename the team. While "Knights" and "Gold" were popular suggestions, "Hornets" eventually won out, not only because it sounded unique and catchy, but also because the name has some history in that area of the country. According to Hoopedia.nba.com, when British general George Cornwallis wrote back to King George about f!ghting American soldiers in the Carolinas during the Revolutionary War, he said, "This place is like f!ghting in a hornet's nest." Once upon a time there also had been a Minnesota Twins farm league team and World Football League team also called the Charlotte Hornets, so the name had some history as well. Now in New Orleans, the team is still called the Hornets, significantly less silly than the Memphis Grizzlies because there are hornets everywhere—Charlotte, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, and the rest of the country, too.

Oklahoma City Thunder – The most recently-renamed team in the league, the name "Thunder" was chosen among four finalists when the franchise moved from Seattle to OKC just a little over a year ago. The other possibilities were "Thunderbirds," "Barons," and "Outlaws," all of which seem to be more interesting than "Thunder," which technically isn't even something human beings can see or touch. Back in the 1960s, when the team was preparing for its inaugural season, "SuperSonics" won a fan-driven contest pretty easily; over 200 different entries listed that as the name. During that decade the Boeing Company announced plans to build a "SuperSonic Transport" that would be similar to a Concorde jet. The SuperSonic never got built, but the name certainly stuck. If basketball ever comes back to Seattle, one has to think they'll revive the name. Let's hope both happen someday relatively soon.

Phoenix Suns – The Arizona Republic sponsored a contest to name the team way, way back in 1968 because co-owner Karl Eller couldn't think of anything. A woman named Selinda King won $1,000 and season tickets for the team's first season for suggesting the eventual winner. Why "Suns"? Because Arizona is a state known for it's beautiful and colorful sunsets—hence purple and orange being the dominant team colors.

Portland Trail Blazers – Usually when an organization holds a contest to choose a nickname for an area's new team, it goes with the winner which, in this particular case, was "Pioneers." There's no ignoring the lovely alliterative qualities of Portland Pioneers, but that name was already being used by Lewis & Clark College located in, you guessed it, Portland, Oregon. The name "Trail Blazers" means essentially the same thing as "Pioneers"—both are shout-outs to the Oregon Trail and all the settlers that used it to move out West—and had the second-most votes among fans. Everybody wins.

Sacramento Kings – Originally the Rochester Royals of the NBL and later the Cincinnati Royals, the franchise moved to Kansas City in 1972. As any baseball fan knows, there already would've been a Kansas City Royals team in place there, so the new pro franchise in town decided to go with "Kings."

San Antonio Spurs – When this Texas franchise was introduced to the ABA in 1967 they were known as the Dallas Chaparrals—a chaparral being a shrub-land habitat populated by several different species of birds—but when the team moved to San Antonio in 1973 they changed. To the San Antonio Gunslingers. That name apparently came off as violent or inappropriate, so "Spurs" was chosen instead. The reason is pretty simple—Texas is the land of cowboys, and what cowboy getup is complete without boots and spurs?

Utah Jazz – This is perhaps the oddest city name and team name combination in the modern NBA, jazz music having very, very little do with Salt Lake City. In fact the name "Jazz" was chosen when the team was based in New Orleans because that particular city has been known to be the "Jazz Capitol of the World." That name, as well as the team's colors and logos, were kept in place when the organization relocated to Utah in 1979.


Boston Unicorns FTW
 08-16-2009, 10:04 PMaway - #3
Andre3stacks 13 heat pts13

$15,337 | POWERFUL
We coulda still been the Bullets if it wasn't for that old a$s ni##a :(

 08-16-2009, 10:11 PMaway - #4
primetime 60 heat pts60

$21,011 | POWERFUL
lol at Miami Beaches
 08-16-2009, 10:11 PMaway - #5
madness 6 heat pts

$12,060 | POWERFUL
@the miami flamingos

dodged that bullet....
 08-16-2009, 10:16 PMaway - #6
ronnie|A 10 heat pts10

$28,818 | POWERFUL
We would like to introduce to you, the NBAs new expansion franchise from Toronto... the Toronto Terriers

 08-16-2009, 10:24 PMaway - #7
UrbanEnterprise 18 heat pts18

$7,998 | POWERFUL
funny how san diego rockets were bought out and came to Houston, the name matches perfectly wit our city

Houston Rockets
 08-16-2009, 10:46 PMaway - #8
m!ck3y 2 heat pts

$8,653 | POWERFUL
lol at the orlando juice.. #### woulda been hot
 08-16-2009, 10:56 PMaway - #9

$1,485 | 0
Yeah, it's about time they pulled a switch and let Utah have a new name or the Grizzlies, NO can have the Jazz back and drop Hornets, and the Grizzlies can take the Hornets or opt for a new name like Express or maybe the Blues.
Just get rid of all these names that have nothing to do with the city. Maybe that's what's holding these franchises back. Because they have some screwed up luck in situations a$sociated with winning, some real daggers through the heart.
 08-16-2009, 11:01 PMaway - #10

$819 | 2897680
lol @ Unicorns..
Posted via Mobile Device
 08-16-2009, 11:02 PMaway - #11
ChiCity Fingaz 118 heat pts118

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@ the Boston Unicorns
 08-16-2009, 11:05 PMaway - #12
MiamiDade 28 heat pts28

$13,451 | POWERFUL
i thought Miami Heat was an obvious name for the hot and humid weather...i didnt know they had to deliberate with flamingos & beaches...
 08-16-2009, 11:06 PMaway - #13
ronnie|A 10 heat pts10

$28,818 | POWERFUL
Originally Posted by m!ck3y
lol at the orlando juice.. #### woulda been hot
I agree, they should have went with Orlando Juice
 08-16-2009, 11:17 PMaway - #14
D1nOnlyMrM@ 32 heat pts32

$10,191 | POWERFUL
unicorns terriers zephyrs flamingos sea dogs
Posted via Mobile Device
 08-16-2009, 11:31 PMaway - #15
bassy 20 heat pts20

$5,822 | POWERFUL
The Washington Sea Dogs?

 08-16-2009, 11:38 PMaway - #16
AC_89 70 heat pts70

$20,907 | POWERFUL
Charlotte Flight????
 08-16-2009, 11:45 PMaway - #17
tdub-zr0 134 heat pts134

$11,355 | POWERFUL
Originally Posted by dj ac
Charlotte Flight????
I know, right? Sounds like a WNBA expansion team.
 08-17-2009, 12:41 AMaway - #18
ThaShark316 85 heat pts85

$12,743 | POWERFUL
lol @ omar epps and tupac being at orlando juice games to promote their movie.
 08-17-2009, 12:49 AMaway - #19
head first 

$1,982 | 2704644
Utah Jazz is the best NBA name.
 08-17-2009, 12:59 AMaway - #20
Gadd 47 heat pts47

$2,075 | POWERFUL
Memphis Grizzlies – As an expansion team in 1995, the new Vancouver franchise decided to go with "Grizzlies" as their team name because grizzly bears are a powerful animal indigenous to British Columbia. When Memphis took over the team in 2001 they kept the name, even though Tennessee is not an area particularly known for its grizzly bear population. The current ownership group was rumored to have explored changing the name to the "Express" as part of a naming rights deal with Memphis based FedEx, however the NBA denied the move.

man if they changed a team's name just because of a naming rights deal with FedEx


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