To understand the history of this great game, you have to step back and view the entire timeline, like this fantastic article that continuously updates their complete history of the NBA. But have you ever wondered why NBA teams are called the Hornets, or the Lakers, or the Nets?
After doing some digging, most NBA teams have fascinating stories surrounding their names, whether based on their region, their historical precedent or even named by their fans. Whatever the case, each one is entertaining and sometimes even a little crazy.
In 1946, the NBL (National Basketball League) awarded three cities a franchise — Moline and Rock Island, IL and Davenport, IA — also known as the Tri-Cities. That team was nicknamed the Blackhawks after Sauk Indian Chief Black Hawk. They then joined the NBA in 1949, moved to Milwaukee in 1951, and shortened the name to the Hawks. Moved to St. Louis in 1955, and finally landed in Atlanta in 1968.
The name was personally picked by team owner Walter Brown in 1946. He was contemplating other names such as the Olympians, the Whirlwinds, and the Unicorns. Brown’s reason: “The name has a great basketball tradition from the old Original Celtics in New York (1914-1939). And Boston is full of Irishmen.”
The team started as the New Jersey Americans in the ABA (American Basketball Association) in 1967. The very next year, they moved to New York and renamed themselves as the New York Nets. Went back to Jersey in 1977, considered renaming themselves to the Swamp Dragons in 1994, but ultimately ended up in Brooklyn in 2012.
The Charlotte Bobcats, generated after a name-the-team contest in 2004. Owner BOB Johnson was fond of the name but ended up getting adverse reactions to the name, so they switched it to Hornets in 2014. Hornets can be traced back to some historical significance; during the Revolutionary War, a British commander reportedly referred to the area around Charlotte as a “hornet’s nest of rebellion.”
Chicago had a status of the meat capital of the world in 1966. Owner Richard Klein brainstormed the names Matadors and Toreadors, but stuck with the Bulls from his young son’s reaction after hearing his ideas; “Dad, that’s a bunch of bull!”
“Represent a group of daring, fearless men, whose life’s pact was never surrender, no matter what the odds.” That’s what contest winner Jerry Tomko wrote about his winning name in 1970. They’ve been playing under that name ever since.
Dallas got the nod from the NBA for a franchise in 1980. That meant another name-the-team contest was born, and owner Donald Carter settled with the Mavericks over Wranglers and Express.
Originally named the Rockets back in the ABA, they then shifted to the NBA in 1974, where Houston already took the Rockets. Chosen via a name-the-team contest, The Nuggets, an allusion to the city’s mining tradition and the Colorado Gold Rush during the late 1850s and early 1860s.
Rooted from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and formally known as the Zollner Pistons. Now, before you ask, it’s from a piston manufactured by then-team owner Fred Zollner, who named the club after his business. The team moved to Detroit in 1957 and dropped the Zollner which fit perfectly for the Motor City.
Golden State Warriors
Philadelphia was first awarded an NBA franchise in 1946; it was called the Warriors, the name of Philadelphia’s old American Basketball League team. The nickname survived when they moved to San Francisco in 1962, then relocated to Oakland in 1971, dubbed the Golden State Warriors.
The space industry was huge back in San Diego, where they got the Rockets nickname in 1967. Relocated to Houston in 1971 and kept the name from NASA’s space center located in Houston.
Founded in 1967, and formerly an ABA franchise. The Pacers were named by the team’s original group of investors. Inspiration was from Indiana’s history with harness racing pacers, as well as the pace car used during the Indianapolis 500.
Los Angeles Clippers
When the NBA’s Buffalo Braves moved to San Diego in 1978, the owners wanted to rebrand the team with a new nickname. Settled on Clippers, from San Diego being home to a lot of large sailing ships, many of which were coined “clippers.” Donald Sterling bought the Clippers during the 1981-82 season and relocated them to Los Angeles in 1984.
Los Angeles Lakers
This name makes absolutely no sense for a Los Angeles team. However, it used to fit the Lakers’ old hometown, Minneapolis. Minnesota is known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” so it made sense when it was there in 1947. Moved to LA in 1960 and kept the name from strong tradition.
Vancouver was given a franchise in 1994. Was nearly named the Mounties, but landed on the Grizzlies from a name-the-team contest. Moved to Memphis before the 2001-02 season, and FedEx was prepared to offer the Grizzlies $100 million to rename the team the Express, but the NBA rejected the proposal.
Started in 1988, another contest was quickly put in place. Out of 20,000 entries (including the Beaches, Floridians, and Suntan), the Heat was chosen.
The city of Milwaukee had a contest in 1968. It was Robins that won, yet the judges overruled the public and chose the Bucks, which reflected a more indigenous (and stronger) name.
Minnesota’s new franchise was named, to no one’s surprise, by a name-the-team contest back in 1986. The two most popular vote-getters in the contest were Timberwolves and Polars. The choice was left to the state’s city councils.
New Orleans Pelicans
Originally named the Charlotte Hornets in 1987, and survived the move to New Orleans. Tom Benson purchased the New Orleans Hornets in 2012 and wanted a change. They considered the nickname Krewe (groups of costumed paraders in the annual Mardi Gras carnival in New Orleans) and Brass but settled on Pelicans — after the brown pelican, Louisiana’s state bird.
New York Knicks
The term “Knickerbockers” referred explicitly to pants rolled up just below the knee by Dutch settlers in the New World during the 1600s. Many of these settlers found homes in and around New York City. In 1946, New York was granted a franchise in the Basketball Association of America. Team founder Ned Irish reportedly decided to call the team the Knickerbockers (shortened to Knicks), after pulling the name out of a hat.
Oklahoma City Thunder
When the Seattle Supersonics moved to Oklahoma City following the 2007-08 season, fans voted on the team’s new name. The Thunder name won since Oklahoma experiences vicious thunderstorms every year.
Orlando held its name-the-team contest in 1986, months before it was even awarded a franchise. Four emerged as finalists, the Heat (not taken at the time), Tropics, Juice, and Magic. The name is an obvious nod to the tourism-rich city’s main attraction, Disney World.
The Syracuse Nationals relocated to the City of Brotherly Love in 1963, and the team renamed to the 76ers. An allusion to the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in 1776.
Another name-the-team contest in 1968. General manager Jerry Colangelo chose Suns over Scorpions, Rattlers, and Thunderbirds, among the other suggestions. One lucky fan won $1,000 and season tickets as part of the contest, which included obscure entries such as White Wing Doves, Sun Lovers, Poobahs, Dudes, and Cactus Giants.
Portland Trail Blazers
In 1970, Portland was granted an expansion franchise in the NBA. Funnily enough, the name Pioneers was selected as the most popular but was already taken as the name of a local college team. The name Trail Blazers was also popular and reflected the same pioneering spirit.
The Sacramento Kings were originally the NBL’s Rochester Royals. They kept the name when they moved to Cincinnati in 1957. But changed to the Kings when relocated to Kansas City and Omaha, then finally moved to Sacramento in 1985.
San Antonio Spurs
A group of San Antonio investors purchased the Dallas Chaparrals from the American Basketball Association in 1973. The Chaparrals quickly became the San Antonio Gunslingers, and it looked like that would be the name of the franchise moving forward. However, the team’s ownership group started a name-the-team contest, from which the name Spurs was selected.
Granted a franchise in 1993, the city immediately polled fans across the nation to determine what the team’s new name would be. Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, and Hogs were contenders, yet the Raptors won by the success of the movie Jurassic Park.
The Utah Jazz only makes sense as a name if you consider the team’s history. The franchise was originally a 1974 expansion team in New Orleans, where the name Jazz very much makes sense. However, after the New Orleans Jazz posted the worst record in the league during the 1978-79 season, the team’s ownership group decided to relocate the team to Salt Lake City.
In 1946, Baltimore’s franchise was named the Bullets, and Washington’s team took the name from 1963 to 1996, over 30 years. However, team owner Abe Pollin felt that the name promoted too much of a violent image and, in 1996, decided to rename the team the Wizards.
Catch you Monday.