NBA Background Checks: The Meaning Behind Every Team's Nickname
Not many people pay attention to the titles of professional basketball's thirty teams, but if you take the time to ponder them, you'll find yourself asking, "Why in the world are they called that?"
Team nicknames usually have some probable cause or an interesting background, and this is certainly true in the NBA.
For those of you who are wondering and don't know why your team plays under a seemingly absurd title, I've discovered the reasoning behind the madness.
Note: If you are also interested in NCAA, NFL, NHL, and MLB nicknames, check out my profile for the articles.
When the Suns joined the league in 1968, the Arizona Republic held a contest in which there was thousands of entries with names such as Scorpions, Mustangs, Cougars, and Rattlers.
Suns was chosen and the winner was given one grand and season tickets for that year.
To me Scorpions or Rattlers sounds cooler, but Suns is appropriate for Arizona I suppose.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors is a pretty basic name for a sports' team, and was first given to this NBA back when they resided in Philadelphia in 1946.
The name stuck with the team when they moved to San Francisco.
Walter Brown, the first owner of the Celtics, considered nicknames like the Whirlwinds, Olympics, and even Unicorns.
Finally, he came up with a better name, the Celtics, probably because of the amount of Irish people in Boston.
Like the Suns, a newspaper contest was held to determined the nickname of Orlando's new franchise.
There wasn't quite as many entries, but the finalists included the Heat, Magic, Juice, and Tropics.
Obviously, the committee decided on the Magic, but don't ask me how that relates to Orlando...
New York Knicks
Most people know that Knicks is short for Knickerbockers, but what exactly is a Knickerbocker?
It is a term for the first Dutch settlers of New York, and later became a nickname for all people who live in New York.
The Miami Heat entered the league around the same time as the Magic.
A Name the Team contest also decided what Miami's new franchise would be called.
It's hot in Miami so it fits I guess...
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers franchise began in Minneapolis, Minnesota aka "The Land of 10,000 Lakes".
Thus the Laker were born, yet now their name is just a memory of the past. It has nothing to do with Los Angeles.
Would the L.A. Hollywooders be more appropriate?
R.D. Trebilcox won a new car for being one of 45 contestants to choose the name Bucks. He claimed that deer were fast, good jumpers, and agile.
I'm not sure why he is the one credited for the suggestion, but I wish I could've entered such a contest and picked up a new ride.
Jerry Tomko won the Cavs contest when his choice was selected over Foresters, Presidents, and Jays.
Yet again, the name really has nothing to do with the city except for beginning with the letter C.
The Rockets were founded in San Diego in 1967. At this time, a U.S. defense contractor, the General Dynamics Corporation, was close by and developing a rocket program.
I think you can put two and two together...
Portland Trail Blazers
The most popular choice in Portland's naming contest was the Pioneers. This suggestion was rejected because a local college already was using the nickname.
Trail Blazers had 172 votes out of around 10,000 entries, and was selected.
The team was first known as the Buffalo Bisons until moving to Illinois where it was renamed the Black Hawks, after the Black Hawk War (a U.S. war with Native Americans) which was fought mostly within the state.
Upon its move to Milwaukee, it became known as just the Hawks. After yet another move, this time to St. Louis, the Hawks finally ended up in Atlanta.
A committee of investors decided on the Pacers at the team's founding primarily because of Indiana's history of harness racing pacers (a type of horse racing), and the pace car used at the Indianpolis 500.
Apparently it was more difficult to decide if it should be named the Indiana or Indianapolis Pacers.
Bulls resemble strength and power, and back in 1966 Chicago was also the meatpacking capital of the world.
Richard Klein, the Bulls' first owner, also considered Matadors and Toreadors.
The team began its journey in Rochester where, after a naming contest, it was known as the Royals.
At one point it ended up in Kansas City, which already had a baseball team called by the same name, so it was changed to the Kings.
The franchise's first owner, Fred Zollner, also owned a foundry that manufactured pistons for autmobile engines.
When it moved from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Detroit, the name was kept because the city relied on car manufacturing.
Oklahoma City Thunder
When the team recently moved from Seattle, it needed a new nickname.
Out with the Sonics, in with the Thunder. Apparently thunder is common weather in Oklahoma.
New Orleans Hornets
The team moved from Charlotte where it was given its name following a contest.
The British referred to Charlotte as a hornets' nest during the Revolutionary War because of its great hostility toward Britain.
When the British invaded, they found a trap (hornets' nest) waiting for them in the Carolinas.
While it is possible that Bobcats could be derived from the team's first owner, Bob Johnson, it is more likely that it is name after the native animal.
The bobcat is an athletic, fierce predator. Maybe the team will soon live up to its namesake...
San Antonio Spurs
When the team moved to San Antonio it was originally supposed to be called the Gunslingers, but instead it became the Spurs.
There were cowboys in Texas, cowboys wore spurs on their boots, San Antonio is in Texas, it makes sense...
Barring an objection from the Canadian Mounted Police, the team would've started as the Vancouver Mounties.
Instead, since the grizzly bear is native to the area, it was nicknamed the Grizzlies instead. The name followed the team to Memphis even though there is no grizzlies near by.
A contest dubbed Denver's team the Nuggets, presumably because of the gold rush in Colorado during the 1800's.
Many gold nuggets or pieces of gold were found in the area. Denver could use some extra gold after 'Melo's departure...
Los Angeles Clippers
During the American gold rush, Clippers would come to the porty city of San Diego, the team's old home.
In case you were wondering, a Clipper is a sailing ship.
The Declaration of Independence was signed in the city of Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.
The team's name is a tribute to this monumental year in the history of the United States.
The contest came down to two finalists. the Polars and the Timberwolves.
There is a large population of wolves in Minnesota, and hunting them was popular.
The team used to be called the Bullets, but it was changed to the Wizards because of its violent sound and the crime in Washington.
Wizards was also controversial because of the African-American public, and Wizard being a rank in the KKK.
The team was founded in New Orleans, where jazz music originated and was popularized.
There really isn't much more to it than that.
The nickname was chosen by fans.
Thought to be a horse, by definition a maverick is an unbranded range animal.
Others say it is a cowboy.
New Jersey Nets
The Nets were named as such to rhyme New York's two other pro teams, the Mets and Jets.
It also is part of a basketball hoop, and there is some speculation that it could refer to NJ's prominent fishing industry.
The Raptors' contest entries included the likes of Terriers, Dragons, Hogs, T-Rex, Beavers, and Tarantulas.
It is said Raptors was successful because of the popularity of Jurassic Park at the time.
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