The defending champion and title favorite Miami Heat surprisingly lost to a pathetic Washington Wizards team (who are 2-13) on Tuesday, but this upset wasn’t the biggest news in the NBA this week.
Instead, it was a story coming from New Orleans in which Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports reported that the New Orleans Hornets plan to change their team name to the Pelicans for next season to more accurately represent their city and state.
Despite team owner Tom Benson’s ownership of the nickname the Pelicans, the club said that it hasn’t decided for sure if it will make the change.
Even so, the news prompted an obvious question for many NBA fans: Will the Charlotte Bobcats snatch up the Hornets nickname, as the city used to have a franchise called the Charlotte Hornets that moved to New Orleans in 2002?
That name swap makes perfect sense, but a few other possible trade-arounds came up after that. If we’re going to give two teams more appropriate nicknames, many thought, why not do it for the rest?
When you look around the NBA, there are numerous teams with out-of-place nicknames. The Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1961, but kept their nickname despite the lack of large fresh water sources in the L.A. area. The aptly-named New Orleans Jazz moved in 1979 and became the curiously-named Utah Jazz.
While many think it would clear up confusion to give the Lakers nickname back to Minnesota and the Jazz (or Pelicans) to New Orleans, it would actually make the NBA standings much more of a jumble. Everyone knows who the L.A. Lakers are, and fans don’t even consider what the nickname means or why the team has it at this point.
Suddenly seeing Lakers written across blue and green uniforms would cause most people to double-take and become utterly confused for at least the first year after the change.
We really don’t even need to consider this scenario for the Lakers, though. They’ve built such a valuable and recognizable brand over the last two decades that the owners wouldn’t dare changing the nickname.
While I don’t think any teams taking the nickname of another team is a good idea, except maybe in Charlotte’s case, I think some teams could benefit from a name change. The Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Clippers have taken their nicknames with them in moves despite the lacking appropriateness of those names in their new locations.
Even so, these two teams should keep what they have. Memphis took the Grizzlies label with them from Vancouver in a 2001 move, and the San Diego Clippers (named for Clipper ships that were common in San Diego) brought their name to Los Angeles in 1984.
While a name change for these two teams would help the team identify more with their market and create a local identity, they both are doing so well that such a change would interfere with the branding they’ve worked on the past couple seasons.
Memphis is the best team in the NBA coming into play Thursday (13-3 record), while Los Angeles, affectionately called Lob City after the acquisition of Chris Paul over a year ago, is only a couple games behind Memphis’ pace at 12-6.
A change for the Bobcats could be very beneficial, though, even if it’s just for the sake of making any change. The Bobcats weren’t just the worst team in the NBA last season; they were one of the worst teams of all-time (7-59 record; the next-worse team last year had 20 wins). A rebranding for the team, including a new name, colors and uniforms, could at the very least wash away some of the negative energy that has built up over the past few years around it.
It’s a completely different sport, but the Tampa Bay Rays effectively switched around the fortunes of the club with a name and color change. They went from the 2007 dark green and black, 66-win Devil Rays to the 2008 light green and blue, 97-win and American League Champion Rays.
The change, which happened to come at the exact time many of the team’s young stars broke out, got the fans interested in a team with a new identity, an identity which no longer associated the team with the miserable previous days of the franchise.
In other words, Shakespeare may have been wrong when he said that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
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