NBA: Playing the name change game
Truehoop blog ran an item Wednesday about a Chinese basketball game matching Tracy McGrady and Stephon Marbury. You can read it here, if you’re interested. But what jumped out at me was the name of McGrady’s team. The Beijing Ducks.
Yes, named after the Chinese dish. Except I’ve never heard of Beijing duck. I’ve heard of Peking duck. The Chinese, channeling their old Soviet pals, changed the name of their flagship city decades ago. When I was a kid, it was Peking. Then it became Beijing, sort of the way the Russians kept going back and forth with Saint Petersburg. Nobody in Russia ever really calls it Saint Petersburg, they just call it Petersburg, maybe because it wasn’t named for the real Saint Pete, it was named for Tsar Peter the Great, who isn’t likely to achieve sainthood anytime soon. St. Petersburg became Petrograd in 1914, Leningrad in 1924 and went back to Petersburg in 1991.
But I digress. The whole concept of name changes is relevant to the NBA, especially with the Hornets in town Wednesday. The name that forever will be remembered in Oklahoma City is about to go bye-bye. Or at least East. The Hornets plan to change their name to the New Orleans Pelicans.
It’s sound theory. If you can’t change your backcourt, change your name and get everyone’s mind off the backcourt. If Chris Paul and David West still were sending New Orleans into the second round of the NBA playoffs, like they did in 2008, then nobody would even think to change the name. But CP3 and West are long gone, and so soon will be the Hornet name birthed by George Shinn back in Charlotte.
Which brings us to the Bobcats. Charlotte’s replacement for when Shinn took his franchise to New Orleans. Michael Jordan, who now runs the Bobcats, mostly into the ground, said he would consider taking the Hornet name back. The NBA in Charlotte flourished in the early days of the Hornets — a cautionary tale for OKC and any other thriving city; things don’t automatically stay swell, you have to keep on top of things. That would be funky, the Charlotte Bobcats reverting back to the Charlotte Hornets, because the New Orleans Hornets dropped the name, not in favor of Jazz, the original New Orleans name, but Pelicans, which frankly has its charms. I assume the good folks in Salt Lake City and are not keen on giving up the Jazz name that had no business ever leaving New Orleans for Utah.
I know, it’s all very confusing if you haven’t been following along.
Much less confusing is the other NBA name change, and much more charming, just to be frank. The Brooklyn Nets now adorn the league, and what a wondrous addition to the major-league landscape. Not since 1957, when the Dodgers made their final Ebbets Field appearance, has the Brooklyn name been spotted in major league standings. But the Netropolitans — my ode to the Metropolitans, who never use their Christian name and instead just coarsely call themselves the Mets — moved from New Jersey to the glittering Barclays Center this season and now claim the Brooklyn name.
I think it’s fantastic. Of course, I’m the guy who for 15 years has been clamoring for major league baseball to move a team to Brooklyn. Maybe I’m a marketing man at heart.
The Brooklyn moniker made me think of other teams that ought to use non-traditional names. Most always, teams have used their city name or their state name. The Colts, for instance, are Indianapolis. The Pacers are Indiana. The Nuggets and Broncos are Denver; the Rockies and Avalanche are Colorado. The Cowboys play in Arlington and are Dallas; the Rangers play in Arlington and are Texas. All the Minneapolis teams are Minnesota. The St. Paul team, hockey’s Wild, are Minnesota, too.
But not all stay with the city or state. The NFL Panthers play in Charlotte, but hard by the North Carolina/South Carolina line. Hence, the Carolina Panthers. The NFL Buccaneers play in Tampa and the baseball Rays play in St. Petersburg, and I don’t mean Leningrad, but both call themselves Tampa Bay, which brings in the whole region.
The Giants and Jets used to play in New York, the Giants at Yankee Stadium, the Jetropolitans at Shea Stadium (and heck, even the Polo Grounds). Then they moved to New Jersey and remained the New Yorks. Makes you appreciate the New Jersey Nets and the New Jersey Devils.
The Patriots moved to the Boston suburbs and decided to market the whole region. Thus the New England Patriots. That made their dalliance with Connecticut awhile back more bearable. Move to Hartford, and you still don’t have to change the name. Of course, if you follow the Jets and Giants lead, the Patriots could move to Delaware and still call themselves New England.
The NBA Warriors use the regal name of Golden State. Classy. They once were the San Francisco Warriors but now play in Oakland. Probably would chap Oakland if it didn’t already have the Raiders and the Athletics. Strange twist, Oakland supports the Warriors wonderfully with fan attendance, better than deserved, but has been lukewarm to the Raiders and A’s.
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