The Detroit Pistons turn to fans for (needed) help with branding new G League venture

G League
by Vince Ellis
Special for


 I felt rather clever.

A few weeks ago, it was early in a phone conversation with Detroit Pistons creative director Jason George, who was explaining the difficulty of choosing a team name before the pending announcement that owner Tom Gores had signed off on bringing an NBA G League franchise to Detroit.

I blurted out: “Why not just call it the Motor City Pistons and call it day?”

To George’s credit, he didn’t respond: “Wow, we never thought of that.

Instead, he explained how such a move would have had major implications with the organization’s current e-mail addresses ( would become and URLs.

There could be fan confusion since all marketing would have to clearly differentiate between the main franchise and the G League offshoot.

After listening to George for 20 minutes, it’s clear Pistons officials have given serious thought to the topic since it was announced last year the Pistons would eventually bring a G League affiliate to Detroit.

The Pistons are purchasing the Phoenix Suns’ G-League franchise. The rebranded team is expected to begin play in the 2021-22 season in an under-construction arena on the Wayne State University campus.

When affiliated with Phoenix, the franchise was called the Northern Arizona Suns – not exactly a possibility for the Detroit franchise.

After exploring many options, the franchise is turning to fans.

It’s your chance to help the branding of the new G League team by entering the team’s contest to determine the name.

All entries will have a chance to win two season tickets for the inaugural season.

“We want to go out to our fans and see what they’re thinking,” George said. “If we get one great suggestion or we hear from a huge majority of the fans that they like one specific name, we’ll know that makes sense and it’s what the fanbase and the community want.”

Intellectual property laws prevent many potential ideas from coming to fruition.

The Detroit Union? Philadelphia uses the name for its MLS franchise and the NBA would prefer a more unique brand.

The Motor City Express? Can’t use Express for team apparel, which kind of defeats the purpose.

This serves as your warning that the task is easier said than done.

 In search of a ‘Gem’

 Detroit’s rich history is ripe with marketing opportunities.

There is the relationship with the auto industry. The labor movement of the 20th Century is synonymous with Detroit. Detroit music has influenced the world.

There is also a rich sports history – and a history of defunct teams that are barely remembered.

Take the Detroit Gems, which played in the National Basketball League (an NBA precursor) during the 1946-47 season.

Dearborn businessmen Maurice Winston and C. King Boring introduced the Gems, a name straight from Winston’s jeweler profession. The team played games at Ferndale High and later relocated to Holy Redeemer High near the Ambassador Bridge.

After that one season, Winston sold the Gems to Benny Berger, a Minneapolis-based businessman. Berger moved the team to Minnesota and changed the team nickname to the Lakers and the rest is history. The franchise later moved to Los Angeles and has won 16 league titles.

Could the G-League franchise revive the nickname in a nod to Detroit style and the Gems’ unique place in pro basketball history?


The Pistons thought about calling the venture the Motor City Gems, but George says it was discarded.

“It does have a cool backstory to revive, but internally, folks didn’t gravitate to the name,” George said. “There would be too much explanation needed and some folks didn’t get it.”

The Gems were one of more than 20 names bandied about by Pistons working groups, but none jumped to the forefront.

“We just got to point where we want to hear from the fans,” George said. “I don’t think any of the names really jumped out as, ‘Hey, this is the one.’”

 Loose guidelines

 The Pistons started considering nicknames in November. Teams pondered possibilities; an ad agency made suggestions.

The exercise went through multiple rounds with names being added or discarded based on feedback from team members and the NBA.

“Our job is to zoom out and give everybody perspective on the different options that they have. There’s no rulebook here. There’s no mandate,” NBA senior vice president Christopher P. Arena said.

“It’s a different branding path for everybody and we’re here to help guide the way.”

The G League’s 27 other current franchises offer some guidance.

The Boston Celtics’ G League affiliate is called the Maine Red Claws, a natural choice given the geography.

“If you have a different name, a unique and indigenous name with a fun logo, you’re probably going to edge ahead on some merchandise sales – although you might lose a little bit with continuity with your parent team,” Arena said.

A few things to keep in my mind before accepting the task.

If you are thinking Motown or Hitsville, forget it because those trademarks can’t be touched.

Michigan can be used, but Motor City is likely better.

George says the current preference is to use Motor City because it’s a distinct branding opportunity. Think the recent alternate Pistons uniforms that used the Motor City moniker.

A dark horse candidate? A creative use of Detroit’s famed 313 area code could be irresistible to decision makers.

When a name is determined, expect the G League logo and colors to line up with Pistons’ colors.

Ideas can be submitted at until Aug. 12.

Oh yeah, thanks for the help.


  • Facebook
  • Twitter