Team names should be connected to location

By Kevin Wilson, Freedom New Mexico

I root for a pair of trousers.

I’m not that much different from other sports fans, whether they like the New York Knicks or some other team. It’s all laundry by the time you’re done. Players come and players go. Owners buy and sell teams. Stadiums are built, and stadiums are demolished. Teams leave homes and find new homes.

The only thing left to root for is the jersey … and, if you’re lucky enough, a name that didn’t start somewhere else.

That’s the case right now just a few hundred miles away in Oklahoma City, which has just received an NBA franchise to be named later. The franchise, formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics, was moved and team owners agreed to leave the team name and colors behind.

It’s that kind of foresight that was missing in the early days of the National Basketball Association, as a coworker and I discussed. “And while they’re at it, could they change the name of Utah’s team? I mean, what are the Jazz doing in Salt Lake City?”

That was a pretty simple answer. The Jazz kept the team name when the team moved from New Orleans, and the lack of a name change makes it awkward every time you think of jazz music at the Church of Latter Day Saints, or when you realize that name could have easily gone back to New Orleans when it got another franchise. Instead, New Orleans now hosts the Hornets, a team name kept from its relocation from Charlotte. (Charlotte, meanwhile, now has the Bobcats.)

It would be ridiculous enough just limiting the debate to animal names — after all, it’s odd to think that grizzly bears migrated south because the Vancouver Grizzlies became the Memphis Grizzlies. But I upped the ante in the newsroom.

“Well, it’s not like there are a lot of lakes in Los Angeles,” I said. I followed up with the reminder the Los Angeles Lakers never changed the name when the team moved from Minneapolis (which is apparently in the land of 1,000 lakes). Now Minnesota has the Timberwolves, which could be another awkward scenario if that team ever moves (I’m morbidly rooting for the Honolulu Timberwolves).

The good names are those reflective of a city. The Boston Celtics pay respect to America’s European immigrants, The New York Knickerbockers are a reference to a fictional famous family in the city. And, in the National Football League, the Baltimore Ravens pay tribute to native Edgar Allen Poe and his most famous work. You just have to avoid controversial nicknames, as did Washington, D.C., when it eliminated the Bullets team name in favor of the Wizards and alliteration.

Right or not, a sports franchise makes a city more relevant. El Paso, Texas, is the 21st-most populated city, but you’re more likely to apply the “big city” tags to Boston (No. 23), Denver (No. 26) and Pittsburgh (No. 57) because they have sports franchises.

Keeping the last two paragraphs in mind, cities without teams should always have names in mind. Even Albuquerque needs to be ready, should some casino owner get bored and try to bring in a team he owns.

Whatever Oklahoma City goes with, I can only hope it reflects the city’s heritage, and maybe pays respect to its native country musicians like Garth Brooks, Vince Gill and Toby Keith.

I wonder what the plural form of “How Do You Like Me Now?” is.

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Freedom New Mexico. He can be contacted at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by e-mail:
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