A LOOK AT THE STORIES BEHIND THE NAMES OF NBA TEAMS
What's In a Name?
Have you ever wondered how your favorite NBA team received its famous moniker? Names like, the Lakers, the Jazz or the Heat. All NBA teams have an interesting story or a history behind their names. Some of the names reflect the city's culture or history, others were inherited from previous owners and many were selected through "Name the Team" contests.
The following explains how NBA teams received their team name. The stories also are chronicled in the book "The Names of The Games: The Stories Behind the Nicknames of 102 Pro Football, Basketball, Baseball, and Hockey Teams" by Mike Lessiter.
Since Utah's team has its roots in New Orleans, Louisiana it would explain why it's called the Jazz. In 1974, New Orleans club officials chose the name to represent the city for its reputation as the internationally known "jazz capital of the world". The name stayed with the team even after finding a new home in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1979.
Chicago's original owner, Richard Klein probably had a premonition about the club's success when he named it the Bulls. He picked the name because the fighting bull had a relentless attitude along with the instinct to never say quit. Klein, who founded the club in 1966, believed these qualities were essential for a championship club and hoped his Chicago athletes would live up to the team name. A belief the Bulls - winners of six NBA championships in eight years - have definitely followed.
The Boston Celtics and the New York Knickerbockers, of the Basketball Association of America (which later merged with the National Basketball League to form the National Basketball Association), are the only two original franchises still playing in the same city with the original team name since they were created in 1946.
As head of the Boston Garden Arena Corporation, Walter Brown wanted basketball to fill his arena during long winter months and in between boxing matches and hockey games. Brown, the Celtics' founder, tossed around a variety of names for the team including the Whirlwinds, Olympics, and Unicorns but in the end chose the "Celtics". The name has a great basketball tradition from the old Original Celtics in New York (1914-1939).
Tradition played a big part in naming the New York Knickerbockers. Chosen by the club's founder Ned Irish, the Knickerbocker name already played an integral part of the New York scene. The first organized team in baseball history was named the New York Knickerbockers or the Knickerbocker Nine.
The term "Knickerbockers" traces its origins back to the Dutch settlers who came to the New World - and especially to what is now known as New York - in the 1600s. Specifically, it refers to the style of pants worn by the settlers. The pants, which became known as knickerbockers or knickers, were rolled up just below the knee.
Before relocating to Detroit , the Pistons' first home was Fort Wayne, Indiana where they were known as the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons. Team owner Fred Zollner named the club after himself and his business, a piston manufacturing company in the area. However, Zollner moved the team to Detroit in 1957 in hopes of finding a bigger market. The team name went unchanged and fit right in with the Motor City's reputation as the auto capital of the world.
On April 22, 1987, the NBA granted expansion franchises to Charlotte, Miami, Minnesota and Orlando. All four teams turned the responsibility of finding team names over to the fans by holding contests. In Charlotte 's case, the public prevailed after rejecting the original name, the Charlotte Spirit . After team officials narrowed down fan submissions, fans voted on the last six choices and the "Hornets" won by a landslide.
Minnesota team officials narrowed down contest submissions to Timberwolves and Polars. The Timberwolves name was selected by a 2-to-1 margin over the Polars because timberwolves are indigenous to Minnesota, the only state with a significant number of this breed of wolves, other than Alaska.
But these weren't the only teams to ask their fans for help. Dallas chose "Mavericks" from fan submissions because of its connection to the world famous cowboy image of Texas. A contest helped Phoenix pick the Suns since it reflected Arizona's year-round sunshine and tropical climate.
Seattle named its team the SuperSonics because of the huge Boeing plant located in the area in 1967. Boeing, one of the leading airplane manufacturers in the United States, proposed the building of a Concorde-style airplane called the "Supersonic Transport". Over 200 entries suggested the Sonic name even though the plans for the new plane never took off.
Out of all the entries submitted to local newspapers, the Cavaliers was the top pick for Cleveland . In the same year, Portland chose the Trail Blazers for its club's name from a contest that resulted in over 10,000 entries.
In 1968, the Bucks was picked for Milwaukee 's team from entries that included Skunks, Beavers, Hornets and Ponies because it reflected the wildlife atmosphere in Wisconsin.
The Houston Rockets first started out in San Diego, which selected the name because it agreed with the city's theme of a "City in Motion". After the 1970-71 season, the San Diego Rockets moved to Houston, Texas and kept the same name since it related to the city's NASA space program.
After losing the Rockets to Houston, San Diego didn't have a team until the Buffalo Braves moved to California in 1978. Since team officials believed the name did not fit in with San Diego's image, a contest helped select the "Clippers" as the new name. San Diego was famous for the great sailing ships - the clippers - which passed through the city many years ago. Los Angeles became home to the NBA franchise, now known as the Los Angeles Clippers, in 1984.
When Toronto became the 28th team in the NBA and the first expansion franchise outside of the United States, a contest helped come up with the Raptors for the team name.
Chronicling a team's name is not always a simple task, especially in Atlanta's case. The Atlanta Hawks played in three separate cities over a 20-year period before settling in its latest homestead in 1968. Originally known as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, named after the famous Sauk Indian Chief Black Hawk, the team belonged to Moline and Rock Island, Illinois; and Davenport, Iowa, which were granted the franchise in 1948. Chief Black Hawk's tribe was located in Rock Island and a major part of the 1831 Black Hawk War was fought in the surrounding areas.
However, in 1951, the team migrated north to Milwaukee, where the its name was shortened to the Hawks. But only four short years later, the team started to make its way south to St. Louis, Missouri, where it was known as the St. Louis Hawks. After 13 seasons, the team relocated again even further south to Atlanta, where it has been the Atlanta Hawks ever since.
When Denver played its first season in the American Basketball Association (ABA) in 1967, the team was known as the Denver Rockets. The team had a set of new owners and the opportunity to join the National Basketball Association. Since another professional basketball team was already using the Rockets, Denver changed its name to the "Nuggets" just in time for the 1974-75 season. The name refers to the 19th century gold rush when people overwhelmed the area in search of gold and silver.
Before finding its home in the Golden State, the Warriors first originated in Philadelphia. The team was named after the city's original basketball team - the Warriors who played in the American Basketball League in 1925. After spending 16 years in Philadelphia, the team moved to the other side of the United States to San Francisco where they were known as the San Francisco Warriors. But a short time later, the team relocated again to Oakland in 1971, it was renamed the Golden State Warriors in an attempt to get the entire state of California involved with the basketball team.
Even though the team moved to New York after its inaugural season in 1967, the club returned to New Jersey 10 years later. During the summer of 1968, the New Jersey Americans moved to Commack, Long Island, and was renamed the New York Nets after one of the most important parts of the basketball game - the net. Yet before the start of the 1977-78 season, the team relocated back to New Jersey and kept the same name.
The Sacramento Kings began as the Rochester Royals in 1945 in the National Basketball League. In 1957, the team moved to Cincinnati and renamed the Cincinnati Royals. In 1972, the team moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and called the Kansas City-Omaha Kings after the city's fans voted on the name. The team played some home games in Omaha, Nebraska. In 1975, Omaha was dropped from the name. Even though, the team moved to Sacramento, California in 1985 the name remained with the team.
Before the team moved to San Antonio in the summer of 1973, it started out a Dallas franchise back in 1967. The club was named the Dallas Chaparrals, a name representing the famous thickets and trees located in Texas and Mexico. However, in 1970 the name changed to Texas Chaparrals in an effort to spark interest throughout the state. Yet only one year later, the club's name reverted back to Dallas. When the team relocated to San Antonio, the name no longer suited the city's image and a contest decided the new Spurs name, a reflection of the western heritage of Texas.
In the Spring of 1963, Philadelphia once again had an NBA team. The city's original team the Warriors transferred to San Francisco. After purchasing the Syracuse Nats, the team was renamed the 76ers, in honor of the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, by the Continental Congress at Independence Hall located in Philadelphia.
When the Washington franchise changed its name from the Bullets to the Wizards, it marked the third name change in club history. The team first started out as the Chicago Packers in 1961, when the owner David Trager named the club after his packing company, but only one year later the team name changed to Chicago Zephyrs.
By 1963, the team moved to Baltimore and renamed the Baltimore Bullets after the city's first basketball franchise. Originally, the team was named after a local World War II ammunition factory. For the 1973-74 season, they were known as the Capitol Bullets. But times have changed. With America moving to end violence and bring peace to its neighborhoods, Washington owner Abe Pollin made the decision to change the name to the Wizards for the beginning of the 1997-98 season.
As the latest addition to the NBA, the Vancouver franchise selected the Grizzlies as its team name because grizzlies are an indigenous species to the area (there are about 20,000 Grizzly bears in British Columbia) and are prominent in northwestern native culture and mythology.
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