Moniker Rankings: NBA

Now that the 2012-2013 NBA season is well under way, Sport Change will reveal the moniker rankings for each team in the league.

NBA: Nicknames Borderline Atrocious

For the Sport Change explanation of what makes a good or bad moniker, click here.  For the purposes of ranking NBA nicknames, here are those criteria:

Factors that make a good NBA moniker: generality, regional relevance, intimidation, alliteration, and history.  The NBA is an interesting mix of nicknames.  It’s not as old or historic as other pro sports leagues, so only a handful get a boost from history.  Intimidation works to some extent, but basketball is still not a full-contact sport.  There’s only one alliterative name, and it’s a textbook example of how not to use alliteration.  On that note…

Factors that make a bad NBA moniker: non-singularable/non-pluralable (NS/NP), overspecification, overdependence on alliteration, blandness, regional irrelevance, and inappropriate cleverness.

There are five very good nicknames in the NBA, and  there are no blatantly disrespectful nicknames.  Make no mistake, however, there is an overabundance of crappy monikers.


Let’s get right into it.  Forget countdowns, we’re starting at the top:

‘Bucks’ is a terrific moniker, but it’s not quite the best.

The Fab Five

1. Bulls.  When done correctly, animal monikers are about as good as it gets.  Chicago scores points for having an intimidating and masculine moniker, a regional tip-of-the-horn to Chicago’s meatpacking history, and a good dash of consistent history.

2. Kings.  General and respectable.  Just a great, solid pro sports nickname.

3. Bucks.  Another great regionally relevant horned-male-mammal nickname.  A moniker that benefits from the nice hard ‘K’ sound.

4. Warriors.  Terrific name for a pro team.  There’s a lot of power behind that word.

5. Hawks.  Neck and neck with Eagles as the best bird nicknames around.  Another moniker with that hard ‘K’ sound.

A bird moniker done right.


The Independent Spirits

6. Trailblazers.  Portland’s team name was going to be Pioneers, but a small, local college had already claimed it.  That’s a bit of a shame, as the alliteration and historical connotation would have been sublime.  This moniker gets by on the very nice shortened version of ‘Blazers.’

7. Mavericks.  Kind of goofy, but it fits well with Dallas.

8. Cavaliers.  It’s a bit amateurish sounding, but the alliteration is nice.  On some obscure level, it represents a rogue, fighting figure.

When weird works.


The Historic Skaters

9. Knickerbockers.  Manhattan’s team has a very questionable, minor-league sounding nickname.  Like the fellow Yankees, however, the Knicks skate by on historic indoctrination.

10. 76ers.  It’s regionally relevant, anyway, and the nickname rolls of the tongue nicely.  That said, this is pretty questionable at face value–just like the 49ers.

11. Celtics.  It would be ranked much higher if it weren’t for the fact that everybody has been pronouncing the word wrong for nearly a century.  I wonder what Irish people think about this moniker.

12. Lakers.  Like baseball’s Dodgers, this is an historic team with a moniker relevant to it’s original region.  Also like the Dodgers, they’ve been in LA long enough to establish their own colorful history. At face value, it’s still pretty terrible.

10,000 lakes?  More like 10 million Laker fans.


The Questionable Critters, Part I

13. Timberwolves.  Why not just Wolves?  I’m baffled that no pro team is just the Wolves.  Maybe a future NFL franchise in LA?  Adding the (admittedly regionally relevant) Timber to the moniker makes it sound a little minor leaguey.

14. Hornets.  I actually like this nickname quite a bit.  It’s the best of the insect nicknames (Bees, Yellow Jackets) that are much more common at college or semipro levels.  I’ll always associate the Hornets with Charlotte, but that’s probably just a generational thing.  There has been plenty of talk over the last few years about changing the nickname, but I don’t think NOLA will come up with anything better.  Also: I bet that there are a few hornets buzzing around the bayous.

I’m not knocking the Hornets as a moniker, but it belongs back in Charlotte.


The Objects, Part I

15. Pistons.  As far as objects monikers go, ‘pistons’ has blue-collar cred and even the word itself sounds a little intimidating.  Very regionally relevant, and one of the best inanimate object nicknames in pro sports.  But it’s still an inanimate object.

16. Rockets.  It’s great how the Rockets were once in San Diego.  When they moved to the home of NASA, it only makes sense to keep the name.  A few nice things are going on here: it’s universal, energetic, and has that nice hard ‘K’ sound that I keep bringing up.

17. Suns.  Regionally relevant and universal, if a little bland.  Just OK.  Makes sense that it’s ranked right in the middle of the pack.

18. Nuggets.  It’s beyond goofy, I know, but it’s just too awesome that a pro team is called the Nuggets.  Very minor-leaguey, but lovable nonetheless.

Who wants to play Tetris?


The Questionable Critters, Part II

19. Bobcats.  This moniker is reviled by many, but I’m actually a fan.  It’s more minor league, granted, but it’s pretty decent.  Cat nicknames are a pretty good bet.

20. Grizzlies.  A great name for a franchise located in Vancouver.  In Vancouver, not Memphis.  They were almost the Memphis Express, so I guess it could be worse.  The perfect name?  The Memphis Blues.

Don’t mean to sound grizzled, but this is an inappropriate moniker for Memphis.


The Objects, Part II

21. Spurs.  I’ve never like this moniker.  Why did naming a pro team after a clothing accessory ever sound like a good idea.  Why not the San Antonio Saddles?  The San Antonio Handkerchiefs?

22. Clippers.  This moniker belongs to the Minor League Baseball Columbus Clippers.  It’s too obscure and silly for a pro team.

23. Nets.  The rhyming of Mets, Jets, and Nets is cute, but Nets is not a good name.  A net is something that gets scored upon.  The Brooklyn Balls would even be better.

24. Pacers.  Maybe this doesn’t qualify as an object, but it’s not clear whether this is a reference to horseriding or car-racing.  Either way, it’s bland, obscure, and amateurish.

I am a Pacer. I will pace myself. Or at least keep a good pace. Pace back and forth?


The Nineties Leftovers

25. Wizards.  It was a great choice at first, but it hasn’t aged well.  This is a textbook case (alongside Jacksonville Jaguars) of a moniker riding alliteration to a point of cringe-inducing mediocrity.  They’ve recently tried to reinvent the brand by changing the colors, but that’s only made it look more pointless.  Time for a totally new name.  Too bad about Minnesota, because Washington Wolves would be a very badass nickname.

26. Raptors.  I have to laugh at every mention of the Raptors.  The story is that market research, surveys, focus groups, etc. really liked Raptors due to Jurassic Park being fresh on the mind.  So if the team had been birthed a few years later, would they be called the Toronto Titanics?  The Toronto Men in Black?  Toronto Harry Potters?  Maybe they should just keep the Raptors moniker but switch the image to a bird of prey.  Not bad.

Clever girl. (Jurassic Park reference, anyone?)


The Non-Singularable/Non-Pluralable Dregs

27. Heat.  I am a Heat.  Me and the other Heat will burn you next game.

28. Magic.  Can you get any more campy?  It was cool twenty years ago.  Now it’s just embarrassing.

29. Thunder.  In some ways, it’s not terrible.  What is terrible is that this is a new brand, and they weren’t able to learn from the mistakes of others.  It sounds more like a semipro nickname.

30. Jazz.  It had to be Jazz.  A trailblazer in NS/NP use, but doesn’t New Orleans always break the rules?  Then a move to Utah and a retention of the name.  Unbelievable.  The laughingstock of pro sports monikers.

Bring ’em back to NOLA and we can talk.


So there you have it.  Feel free to comment, disagree, etc.

I think I’ll stick with basketball for the time being, and serve up some more creative posts about the NBA.  Once the NHL season starts (if it does) I’ll give you their moniker rankings.  So aside from the occasional newsflash, expect more hoops!

For NFL moniker rankings, click here.

For MLB moniker rankings, click here

For NHL moniker rankings, click here


  1. Greg said:

    Great point about the Memphis Blues. Toronto Titanics actually has a nice ring to it, I think. Alliteration and same number of syllables. Are you going to do a top ten across all the leagues after this is all said and done? I would love to see that.

  2. Yes. Yes I am going to rank all the big 4 monikers, both separately and collectively. There are plenty of projects of this nature in the hopper. Keep checking!

    Memphis Blues would be such a sweet nickname – worth poaching from the NHL. Color nicknames are some of the best.

  3. Maria Maccamini-Cowan said:

    I say no on Memphis Blues–too convenient. Even though it ends in S, it’s not pluralable. Plus, when they move to Utah, it won’t make sense. I say no more musical genres.

  4. Good point about the musical genres. That really needs to end. I think the musical element of Blues could be subtle whereas the color element could be emphasized. In that case, it would be singularable and pluralable.

    For instance: “he is a Blue.” “the rookie Blues are really making an impact.”

    It’s a good name. Just admit it. Certainly better than the thought of a grizzly bear snagging catfish out of the Mississippi River.

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