When it comes to naming a team in the National Basketball Association, in my opinion, the name can fall in any one of five categories. Unbeknownst to many so-called “fans” of basketball, there is an unspoken hierarchy among the various team names. Well, unspoken until now. In a “Paints in the Point” exclusive, we go…
INSIDE THE NAME
In Part One of “Inside the Name,” we looked at animal team mascots in the Association.
In Part Two of “Inside the Name,” we looked at the assorted alliterative team names found within the Association.
Two weeks have passed, and now we move on to…
Part 3: Names That Make Sense
The names aren’t ferocious. They don’t roll off the tongue that well, much to the chagrin of marketers and advertising executives. But what they do have is an identity that fits into their city. Take a look at the image below. Can you identify the thing that doesn’t belong?
Want to know the answer?
That’s right, it’s the man in the background, who isn’t smiling, doesn’t have a camera, isn’t excited at all that the Boston Celtics have won the NBA Finals:
“Now Mr. The Freelancer,” you may be saying to yourself, “What about that animated leprechaun in the foreground spinning a basketball on one of his fingers?”
“Hey Mr. #1 ‘Paints in the Point’ Fan,” I might reply, “Why are you interrupting my blog post? I bet you are always the person who yells in movie theatres to warn a character to ‘look out behind that door!’ or ‘fire your agent because this movie is terrible!’ Well, maybe because I’m right and you’re wrong, you selfish reader! Oh, and thanks for reading our blog. Feel free to leave a comment.”
But really, the reason why Boston Celtics mascot Lucky the Leprechaun was not the thing that was out of place in the picture above was because the mascot fits so well with the city it represents. According to the NBA, team founder Walter Brown came up with the name in 1946:
“…Boston is full of Irishmen. We’ll put them in green uniforms and call them the Boston Celtics!”
While the name is probably a little bit racist, the Celtics name has stuck with the team over all of these years. Luckily for the team, the statistics have held up, too. Celtics in Boston, by the numbers:
24% – Percent of Massachusetts residents who were of Irish ancestry in 2007
12% – Percent of Americans who were of Irish ancestry in 2007
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
4,239,848 – Population of Ireland, 2006
1,545,062 – Irish American population in Massachusetts, 2007
15.8% – Percent of Bostonians who are Irish, the largest ethnic group in Boston
8.3% – Percent of Bostonians who are Italian, the second-largest ethnic group
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
Therefore, Lucky the Leprechaun fits in with the Boston identity. However, he is not the only team name that fits their city.
The Philadelphia 76ers were named after the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
Independence Hall is also featured on the reverse of the $100 bill.
What bill is most likely to be found in a basketball player’s wallet? Hm, how about $100 bills? Coincidence? I think not!
The Indiana Pacers’ team name also makes sense. Jim Gaffigan explains:
“There’s a different kind of pride where I’m from. It’s not like ‘We’re from New York: we’re tough’ or ‘We’re from Texas: we like things big.’ It’s more like, ‘We’re from Indiana, and we’re gonna move.'”
So, since people from Indiana are “gonna move,” the Pacers were named after two of Indiana’s most iconic traditions: the pace car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and harness racing, commonly conducted with the horse’s gait called the “pace.”
Unlike most other teams, who are content with only one explanation for selecting their name, Indiana finds a much weaker second explanation. At the team naming meeting, I’d imagine it going something like this:
“So is everyone agreed, then? The ‘Pacers,’ for the traditional pace car that goes around the track at the Speedway?”
Everyone mumbles in agreement.
“But what if we had another reason for the name?”
“Dang it, Frank, we just spent three days discussing this name, and you’re trying to think of another one?”
“I’ve got it! Harness racing! Those horse move at a… wait for it… PACE!”
“Frank, don’t tell me you’ve been down at the tracks again. I don’t wanna have to bail you out again.”
“It ain’t that bad! I’ve just had a bit of an unlucky streak, that’s all!”
“Good Lord, it’s worse than I thought. Frank, if we go along with this alternate explanation, will you stop going to those darn harness races?”
Speaking of “terrible,” take a look at one of the worst logos in the Association:
Despite having such an awful logo, the Portland Trail Blazers team name actually makes sense. Just take a look at the illustration below:
Obviously, it makes sense that a basketball team should be called the Trail Blazers, considering how Lewis and Clark were such pioneers. Hm, that would have made a good name for a Portland team, now wouldn’t it? A name like the Portland Pioneers would have bumped up Portland’s name into the (previously reported) second tier of team names, into the “classic” alliteration.*
Another name that makes sense is the Denver Nuggets. Originally an American Basketball Association franchise known as the “Denver Rockets,” when the ABA merged with the NBA, they had to change their name so as not to compete with the Houston Rockets.
Speaking of the Houston Rockets, its name falls into this category as well. The tie to its city is particularly strong: the Johnson Space Center (located in Houston) is home to both NASA Mission Control and NASA astronaut training. An ironclad name-city tie is bound to have its problems, however, especially one that refers to large quantities of propellants strapped to large payloads. Since its entry into the Association in 1967, the Houston Rockets have had to cope with following rocket-related disasters:
1970: Apollo 13 mission nearly ends in tragedy, but gives newspaper editors clever headline to use when describing a Houston Rockets setback: “Houston, we have a problem.”**
1986: Space Shuttle Challenger explodes after lift-off.
1999: Rocket Power debuts on Nickelodeon, signaling the end to good programming on the channel.
2000: Rocket Power begins its second season alongside As Told By Ginger.
2003: Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates upon re-entry.
2004: Rocket Power drives the final nail into Nickelodeon’s coffin with the hour-long episode “The Big Day.” Drake & Josh premieres.
Erm, back to the Denver Nuggets.
Since Colorado’s history is rife with gold rushes and other gold mining events, naming their team the “Nuggets” (a reference to a previous professional basketball team in Denver) makes perfect sense. Some of their early logos, however, do not:
The Dallas Mavericks name is a bit of a stretch to include it in a category with other names that “make sense.” Believe it or not, the Dallas Mavericks were named after the ABC comedy-western Maverick, because James Garner (who, in case you don’t closely follow the acting careers of actors from fifty years ago, was the star of the aforementioned show) was a member of the ownership group that owned the new Dallas franchise.
Furthermore, the association of the term “maverick” and the 2008 United States Presidential Election strengthens the tie to Dallas, since most associate cowboy hats, wild horses, rebellion, and lawlessness with Texas.
*It should be noted that the new Portland NBA team was going to be called the “Pioneers,” but the Lewis and Clark College, located within Portland, had already taken that name for their sports teams. Portland then opted for the “Trail Blazers” moniker.
**As quoted in the 1995 movie Apollo 13, but the actual quote was “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” But, honestly, who’s going to actually quote the real one after Tom Hanks says an inaccurate line in a multi-million dollar film?
Come back soon for Part 4 of “INSIDE THE NAME!”
- Wildcat: Bobcats
- “Creature I don’t want to meet in the back alley of a Chili’s:” Raptors, Bulls, Timberwolves, Grizzlies, Hornets
- “Generally harmless, can cause major damage to car:” Bucks
- “Classic” Alliteration: Cavaliers, Wizards
- “Wannabe” Alliteration: Lakers, Nets, Spurs, Knicks
- Names That Make Sense: Celtics, 76ers, Pacers, Trail Blazers, Nuggets, Rockets, Mavericks
- “Creative Laziness:” Pistons, Warriors, Hawks, (Lakers, Rockets)
- “Unemployed-uncle-who-can’t-be-bothered-to-even-pry-his-fat-butt-off-of-his-couch-to-defecate Laziness:” Clippers, Jazz, Kings, (Hornets, Grizzlies)
- Unacceptable: Suns, Heat, Magic, Thunder