With the NBA play-offs in full swing, the names of
teams are there for all to see and read and talk about. How they got
that way is always a source of interest. What follows is just a small
sampling of team nick-names and how and why they came to be.
The Knicks and the Celtics are the only teams still
playing in the National Basketball Association in their original cities.
The name Knickerbockers dates back to when New York was New Amsterdam,
and the city's Dutch settlers wore trousers bunched up at the knee known
The name Celtics was given to Boston in 1946 by Walter
Brown, the founder of the franchise. "We'll call them the Boston
Celtics," he said. "The name has a great basketball tradition,
especially when you think of the original 'Celtics' team. Boston is full
of Irishmen; so we'll put the players in green uniforms and call them
the Boston Celtics after their Celtic ancestors."
The Atlanta Hawks were once the St. Louis Hawks, and
before that they were the Milwaukee Hawks. Even before that in 1948,
they were the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. The three cities referred to
Moline, Illinois; Rock Island, Illinois; and Davenport, Iowa. Way back
in 1831, the Blackhawk War was fought in that tri-cities area, and
that's how the original Blackhawk's nickname, later shortened to Hawks,
came to be.
The Rochester Royals played in the NBA for
nine seasons and then transferred to Cincinnati. The name Royals was
kept. In 1972, the franchise moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and the
name was dropped to avoid confusion in the Kansas City area as the
Kansas City and the Omaha baseball teams both used the name Royals. The
new name for the NBA basketball franchise became the Kansas City-Omaha
Kings and, in 1975, simply the Kansas City Kings. A decade later, when
the team moved to California, they became the Sacramento Kings.
Not many people realize that the Denver Nuggets were
charter members of the NBA. But that team only lasted one season. When
the Denver Rockets of the American Basketball Association came into the
NBA, they had to change their name because the Houston Rockets already
existed. So the Denver franchise took the "Nuggets" name of the original
franchise, which was appropriate for an area with a history of gold and
silver mining of nuggets.
Charlotte, Miami, Minnesota and Orlando all have
interesting "name" stories. Originally, the Charlotte team was named the
Spirit, but that didn't go over too well. It was soon dropped, and a
contest was launched among fans to come up with a new name. Runner-up
names included: the Charlotte Gold, the Charlotte Knights, and
incredibly the original name - the Charlotte Spirit. As every NBA fan
knows, the winning name was the Charlotte Hornets.
Miami also held a name-the-team contest and received
more than 5,000 entries. Some of the names that didn't make it included
such choices as Palm Trees, Beaches, Suntan, and Shade. Heat beat them
all out. As one clever official explained, "When you think of Miami,
heat is what comes to mind."
Over 6,000 entries were part of the quest for the
Minnesota team name. The choice came down to Timberwolves vs. Polars.
Timberwolves easily won. That animal is native to Minnesota, and no
other professional sports team ever thought to use the name.
The Orlando Sentinel sponsored a name-the-team contest
in that Florida city. As with Minnesota, the competition came down to
two names: Magic and Juice. Orlando general manager Pat Williams
explained why Magic won out: "Magic is synonymous with the Orlando area.
We have the Magic Kingdom in Disneyworld, and the tourism slogan here is
'Come to the Magic.'"
What’s in an NBA name? Quite a lot!
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About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
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Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
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