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Selecting team's identity is a long, laborious process

By Darnell Mayberry Published: April 14, 2008
More than 100 ideas were submitted by readers of The Oklahoman for its Jersey City contest, and chances are Oklahoma City's prospective NBA team will not settle on any of the suggested nicknames, logos, mascots or color schemes.

It's not that they aren't good. It's just that there's a lot more that goes into choosing a franchise's identity than selecting the first name that rolls off your tongue.

If the Seattle SuperSonics relocate to Oklahoma City and the ownership group leaves the nickname in Seattle as expected, the team must begin the long, laborious and expensive process of starting from scratch.

NBA teams usually take up to 22 months to change or select their team nicknames, logos and uniforms. Charlotte, the last NBA team to select a new name, did so in 2003 before beginning its inaugural season in 2004-05.

The process started with more than 1,200 possible nicknames. After spending more than $100,000 on researching names and design concepts as well as legal fees, the organization's final three choices were Bobcats, Flight and Dragons. Bobcats won out, mostly because the name is a play off of owner Bob Johnson's name and in part because the feline can be found throughout the Carolinas.

The Atlanta Hawks, meanwhile, went through an 18-month process to change only their uniforms and logos in time for the current NBA season. The change cost the franchise more than $750,000. The Hawks needed their organization to reflect their new look, which meant purchasing everything from a new arena floor and arena signage to new business cards and stationery.

The NBA's only rule for team nicknames is they can't be offensive, a mandate that single-handedly could eliminate hundreds of ideas. Because some good names aren't obviously offensive, or distasteful to only a certain group, focus groups and legal teams often are brought in to determine whether a name is offensive.

Once a team passes that step, the league and its legal counsel must determine if the rights to a desired name are already taken — even if the name is completely outside of the sports realm.

Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays, who changed their nickname from the Devil Rays this season, couldn't become the Stingrays because of the Schwinn-brand String-Ray bicycles and the Corvette Stingray.

The Rays hired Interbrand, a New York-based image-maker consultant, in 2005 to help the organization find its new nickname.

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