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I said that basketball posts would go up in March, but here’s one just a day late.  Let’s call it April Fool’s.  Here’s the natural companion to the Ideal NBA: the Ideal NBA Developmental League.

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For the uninitiated, the NBA’s Developmental League, or D-League, is a minor basketball league that currently consists of 16 teams in mid-sized cities scattered across the nation.  It functions somewhat like baseball’s AAA level of minor league play, wherein each D-League team is affiliated with one or more teams.  The D-League is over ten years old, and has been a considerable success.  Expansion is inevitable, so Sport Change will take the opportunity to expound for the league expands.  Here we go.

Scenario 1:  Realistic Suggestions.

This would be the status of the NBA D-League if Sport Change were to make at least halfway realistic suggestions for the league.  Let’s do it team by team:

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Good to Go (same name, same place, same affiliation as present)

Los Angeles D-Fenders (Los Angeles Lakers) This is simple, yet effective.  The nickname is a play on ‘D-League’ and the franchise plays in the same city as the parent.

Canton Charge (Cleveland Cavaliers)  As much as I dislike nicknames that don’t end in ‘S,’ the Charge get a pass for making an allusion to their parent club, as well as linking the name to a popular sports game cheer.

Maine Red Claws (Boston Celtics)  Portland, Maine is a terrific location for a minor league team in any sport, and the Boston parent is the only logical choice.  Red Claws is fun and regionally relevant.

Austin Toros (San Antonio Spurs) Firing on all cylinders–great minor league city, great name, appropriate parent club.

Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Houston Rockets) Royce White’s former team works very well.  Vipers is a great nickname, and the alliteration with ‘Valley’ sounds great.

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Good to Go, but Change the Name (appropriate parent club, but questionable brand)

Texas Legends (Dallas Mavericks)  I like ‘Legends’ quite a bit as a minor (or even major) league brand, and baseball’s Lexington Legends also wear it well.  However, the Legends can’t justify claiming the whole state, when a total of three Texan teams play in the D-League.  We’ll just give them the place-name of their location.  New name: Frisco Legends.

Tulsa 66ers (Oklahoma City Thunder)  Perfect place for an OKC affiliate, but that moniker has to go.  It’s a reference to Route 66, but that doesn’t work for a few reasons.  1.) MiLB’s San Bernardino team already uses it.  2.) Calling a basketball team the “Sixers” is already used.  Let’s give them a name that humorously complements their parent club.  New name: Tulsa Rumble.

Santa Cruz Warriors (Golden State Warriors)  This is the only team that uses a ‘chip-off-the-old-block’ nickname, and it seems awkward next to nicknames like Bighorns and Vipers.  Let’s get more creative and regionally relevant–allierative, too!  New name: Santa Cruz Surfers.

Idaho Stampede (Portland Trail Blazers)  I love that there’s a team in Idaho and that the team is the farm club of nearby Portland.  Not a fan of the nickname, though.  “I’m a member of the Stampede.”  It’s a stretch, plus it’s too close to the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders.  Let’s give Idaho a real farm club name.  New name: Idaho Taters.

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Good to Go, but Pare it Down to One Parent (terrific franchises that have 3 or 4 parent clubs)

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Reno Bighorns.  Probably the top overall brand in the D-League, Reno is shared by Memphis, Utah, and Sacramento.  Since the future of the Kings is in jeopardy, we’ll go with the state to the east.   (Utah Jazz) 

Fort Wayne Mad Ants.   I love this brand, and am glad to see that Fort Wayne has a team.  There are currently four parent clubs (Bobcats, Bucks, Pacers, Pistons) and it’s a choice between Indiana and Detroit.  We’ll keep it in-state.  (Indiana Pacers)

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Change the Name and Pare it Down to One Parent

Iowa Energy.  The Energy (ugh!) currently represent the interest of the Bulls, Nuggets, Hornets, and Wizards.  Of those, the Bulls are the obvious and logical choice of parent.  Iowans tend to be fans of Chicago sports teams, as evidenced by baseball’s Iowa Cubs.  For the name, let’s go with a diminutive of Bulls.  New name and parent: Iowa Calves (Chicago Bulls)

Sioux Falls Skyforce.  It’s cool that South Dakota has a team, but as of today they are the affiliate of the Heat, Timberwolves, Magic, and 76ers.  Only Minnesota makes geographic sense.  The name Skyforce is sort of the quintessential bland minor league name.  I say we take a great name that was recently abandoned by an American Association baseball team.  New name and parent: Sioux Fall Pheasants (Minnesota Timberwolves)

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When one sport abandons a great brand, another swoops in to pick it up.

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Change it All!  (new name, new city, new parent)

Bakersfield Jam.  The Jam currently feed the rosters of the Hawks, Clippers, Suns, and Raptors.   Los Angeles makes the most sense here, so we’ll pare it down.  Why does Bakersfield have such terrible nicknames?  Their MiLB team is called the Blaze.  Ew.  Additionally, the ‘Blaze’ are the lowest draw in baseball, and I question Bakersfield’s ability to sustain a franchise.  So…we’re moving the team to San Diego and resurrecting the old ABA nickname.  New name and parent: San Diego Sails (Los Angeles Clippers)

Erie BayHawks.  Why is Erie, Pennsylvania representing the New York Knicks, when the 76ers have to go to South Dakota on scouting trips?  Even Toronto would be better, and the Raptors’ front office needs to travel to California.  Additionally, I take back what I said earlier about the Skyforce.  ‘BayHawks’ is the quintessential terrible minor league nickname.  Attaching a geological formation to an animal using “camel-case” capitalization = vomit on the shoes.  Especially when wordplay is so much fun.  New name and parent: Erie Ghosts (Philadelphia 76ers)

Springfield Armor.  A couple of things here.  Though I truly do appreciate the fact that there is a D-League franchise in Springfield, Massachusetts, the home of the basketball hall of fame, it just doesn’t work.  It’s unfair for Springfieldians to have to cheer for future members of teams that compete in the same division as the Celtics.  However, there are no other good options for parent clubs with geographic proximity–hence the current linkage with the Nets.  Armor is a terrible name too, of course.  Even if they were to stay in Springfield, they should be renamed the Springfield Hall-Ballers.  I say we move the Armor to Hartford, Connecticut, name them after the Charter Oak, and affiliate them with nearby New York.  New name and parent: Connecticut Oaks (New York Knicks)

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The Charter Oak: it means something to Connecticut.

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Fabrications!  (new teams created by Sport Change)

Now comes the fun part.  In some fashion, we’ve accounted for all sixteen current D-League teams.  However, since we pared down several of the teams to one parent club, there remains an additional 14 NBA teams that need an affiliate.  Let’s toss the serious book out the window and try to create best matches for each NBA team.  Place preference will go to cities that don’t have an NBA team, but are certainly large enough to deserve a D-League team.  Geographic proximity is a no-brainer, for many reasons.  Naming is pure fun.  Let’s do this:

Miami Heat.  Why fly to South Dakota when in-state Tampa is available as a market from which to build a stronger fan base.  For a name, let’s go with an alliterative handle that was once used in a Will Ferrell movie.  D-League Affiliate: Tampa Tropics.

Orlando Magic.  While we’re in the Sunshine State, let’s not forget about the largest city: Jacksonville.  A natural farm club for the parent in Orlando.  I’m not sure about an ideal nickname.  You could go with Mystery, as the name is similar to Magic.  In a similar vein, Sorcerers might work.  Local fauna include Lizards and Snakes, but nothing is particularly striking.  For now, we’ll call them the Jacks, until something better comes along.  Vote now or offer a write-in.  D-League Affiliate: Jacksonville Jacks. (temporary)

Washington Wizards.  The obvious farm club should be based in the nearby city that should (by all rights) host an NBA team: Baltimore, Maryland.  For a nickname, let us simultaneously pay homage to the Charm City while creating a diminutive for Wizards.  D-League Affiliate: Baltimore Charms.

Sacramento Kings.  This will have to remain somewhat goofy until we know for sure whether or not the Kings are moving to Seattle.  If they are, then for the record, the Sonics’ farm club should be based in Vancouver, BC, or Spokane, Washington.  For now, we’ll put Sacramento’s farm club in a large city that is void of an NBA franchise: Seattle.  A nickname should be diminutive here.  D-League Affiliate: Seattle Princes.

Denver Nuggets.  Another major Missourian city, Kansas City, needs a team,  We’ll give KC to the Nuggets.  That sentence made me hungry for some reason.  ‘Cyclones’ is tempting for a nickname, but we’ve used that a few times in the Ideal League process.  Let’s go with a big nugget that flies through space.  D-League Affiliate: Kansas City Comets.

Toronto Raptors.  Ottawa is tempting, but Buffalo is more promising.  For a nickname, let’s continue in the dinosaur theme, and be alliterative at the same time.  D-League Affiliate: Buffalo Brontos.

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Atlanta Hawks.  Since Atlanta is the major city for a vast swath of the South, I think we can just pick a southern city to pair with the Hawks.  Alabama would be interesting, but interest in basketball is minimal.  Let’s go with the Tidewater Region (Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton) of Virginia and bring back an old ABA brand.  D-League Affiliate: Virginia Squires.

Phoenix Suns.  Albuquerque, New Mexico received strong consideration here, and it was very close. For now, however, we’ll agree to award Las Vegas a franchise and we’ll pair them up with the Suns. For a nickname, we’ll take an old MiLB name (Las Vegas Stars) and add a fun touch.  D-League Affiliate: Las Vegas Neon Stars.

Memphis Grizzlies.  St. Louis, Missouri, just up the river from Memphis, is a larger city that would make an ideal home for a D-League franchise.  As tempting as it might be to revamp the ABA’s old ‘Spirits’ brand, we’ll go with a tip of the hat to the Lou’s most famous landmark.  D-League Affiliate: St. Louis Archers.

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Milwaukee Bucks.  As tempting as ‘Green Bay Fawns’ would be, let’s go with nearby Madison, Wisconsin in an effort to sell tickets to students in the winter.  We’ll give them a nickname that was once a minor league baseball team paying homage to the state fish, the muskellunge.  D-League Affiliate: Madison Muskies.

Detroit Pistons.  This is a pretty simple game.  Pick a decent-sized city in Michigan and pair it with an alliterative and humorous car part a la the Lansing Lugnuts.  D-League Affiliate: Kalamazoo Crankshafts.

Charlotte Bobcats.  Raleigh/Durham would be the obvious choice, but we just can’t look the other way when alliteration, diminutive forms, and absurdity collide.  D-League Affiliate: Kentucky Kittens.

Brooklyn Nets.  Where else would the Nets’ affiliate play but for Newark, New Jersey.  Keep the fan base alive and continue with the nickname theme.  D-League Affiliate: Newark Backboards.

New Orleans Pelicans.  Let’s go with the Louisiana state capitol and make an effort to attract LSU college students to the games.  What’s a diminutive form of Pelicans?  D-League Affiliate: Baton Rouge Chicks.

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Those are all 30 current NBA teams.  Let’s recap while simultaneously taking a look at what divisional alignment would look like if the alignment followed that of the parent clubs.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic D-Vision: Maine Red Claws, Newark Backboards, Connecticut Oaks, Erie Ghosts, Buffalo Brontos

Central D-Vision: Iowa Calves, Canton Charge, Kalamazoo Crankshafts, Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Madison Muskies

Southeast D-Vision: Virginia Squires, Kentucky Kittens, Tampa Tropics, Jacksonville Jacks, Baltimore Charms

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Northwest D-Vision: Kansas City Comets, Sioux Falls Pheasants, Tulsa Rumble, Idaho Taters, Reno Bighorns

Pacific D-Vision: Santa Cruz Surfers, San Diego Sails, Los Angeles D-Fenders, Las Vegas Neon Stars, Seattle Princes

Southwest D-Vision: Frisco Legends, Rio Grande Valley Vipers, St. Louis Archers, Baton Rouge Chicks, Austin Toros

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Scenario 2: Playing off the Ideal NBA (aka getting even more goofy)

For this scenario we’re imagining the Ideal D-League as it pertains to the Sport Change Ideal NBA.  Click here to open the Ideal NBA in a new tab.  Without getting into too much detail, here are the differences between the current NBA and the Sport Change Ideal NBA:

-There are 32 teams instead of 30

-Each conference features four divisions, like the NFL

-The Orlando Magic never existed…or we can imagine that they moved.

-Baltimore has a team called the Ravens

-The Kansas City Kings never moved to Sacramento.

-Minnesota is called the Lakers and Los Angeles has the Wolves

-The Charlotte Hornets still exist.

-Pittsburgh has a team called the Ironmen and Toronto is called the Huskies

-New Orleans Jazz still exist and Utah goes by Raptors

-The Clippers are still in San Diego

-Washington is called the Stars

-Oklahoma City goes by Cyclones, and Memphis goes by Monarchs

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Some things are too good to change.

Alright.  Now let’s get in to it.  Several of the teams that we covered in Scenario 1 stay the same.  These are the: Canton Charge, Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Maine Red Claws, Austin Toros, Reno Bighorns (with Utah Raptors), Frisco Legends, Idaho Taters, Iowa Calves, Sioux Falls Pheasants (with Minnesota Lakers), Connecticut Oaks,  Madison Muskies, and Newark Backboards.

Now we’ll take a look at the other 20 teams.

Flint D-Fenders (Detroit Pistons) For this scenario, we steal the clever D-Fenders moniker from L.A. and transplant it in Flint, Michigan.  The Fenders follow in the car part tradition of their parent club.

Tulsa Tornadoes (Oklahoma City Cyclones) Rumble may have worked for the Thunder, but Tornadoes works with Cyclones.

Lafayette Zydeco (New Orleans Jazz)  Rather than Baton Rouge, we go with the home city of zydeco music.

Hidalgo Javelinas (Houston Rockets) Just a simple name change.  Since we have the Pittsburgh Vipers in the NBA now, Rio Grande Valley simply goes by the name of their actual city location and picks a local critter as a mascot.

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Ottawa Bobcats (Toronto Huskies)  We could go with Buffalo Bobcats, but why not give Ottawa a shot this time around?  Now that Bobcats is unused, it works perfect in Ontario.  Fun fact: the Raptors were almost named the Bobcats, but Jurassic Park was too popular at the time.

Raleigh/Durham Wasps (Charlotte Hornets)  About as basic as you can get.

Las Vegas Coyotes (L.A. Wolves)  In this scenario, we’ll have Vegas represent Hollywood.  Coyotes is a fun diminutive form, and interestingly–the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes once came close to moving to Las Vegas.  Since the Coyotes will not be included in the Ideal NHL (spoiler alert!) we’ll use the moniker here.

Erie Phantoms (Pitt Vipers)  We called them Ghosts last time around, but this time we’ll give them a new name to go with their new parent club.

Vancouver Grizzlies (Seattle Sonics)  Yes, yes.  With the Memphis Monarch no long using the terrifically regional Grizzlies moniker, we can bring it back to where it belongs–north of the border.

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St. Louis Archers (KC Kings)  Now that Kansas City has a team, we’ll match them up with in-state St. Louis.  Wichita is tempting, but Kansas has the Jayhawks–and the Shockers.

Delaware Dinosaurs (Baltimore Ravens)  With a team in Baltimore, we turn to a neighbor to the east.  Now that the Raptors and Brontos are gone, we’ll have Delaware continue the dino tradition.

Los Angeles Sails (San Diego Clippers)  If it seems appropriate for the current D-League to have a team in L.A. despite having two in the NBA, it’s fine to put one there with only one team in the Ideal L.A.

Sacramento Sierras (Golden State Warriors) Sacramento has always been something of a second-tier sports city anyway, so now it’s formalized.  The name is a reference to the Sierra Nevada range.

Albuquerque Dukes (Phoenix Suns)  It’s fun to have a team in New Mexico, and the Dukes were such a terrific minor league baseball brand that we’ll reincarnate them in another sport.

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Orlando Magic (Miami Heat)  Orlando never should have had an NBA team to begin with, so they count themselves lucky to have a Heat affiliate.

Jacksonville Jacks (Atlanta Hawks)  We’ll keep a franchise in J-ville, but now they represent the Hawks.  Until conclusive results are pulled from the above poll, we’ll stick with Jacks.

Lehigh Valley Vultures (Philly 76ers)  The Lehigh Valley (Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton) is a densely-populated and sports-crazy region.  Why Vultures?  I guess it’s something unique, and I was inspired by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers alliterative effect.

Nashville Nightengales (Memphis Monarchs)  Named in honor of the Music City songstresses.

Omaha Clods (Denver Nuggets)  If Denver is famous for mining and the Nuggets are named for gold….Nebraska is famous for farming, so the team should represent dirt.

Virginia Squires (Washington Stars)  We’ll continue with the whole Squires thing, but this time we’ll link them with the Capitol.

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There are all of those teams.  Now let’s look at the alignment as it relates to the Ideal NBA:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic: Maine Red Claws, Connecticut Oaks, Lehigh Valley Vultures, Newark Backboards

Northeast: Ottawa Bobcats, Erie Phantoms, Delaware Dinosaurs, Virginia Squires

Southeast: Jacksonville Jacks, Raleigh/Durham Wasps, Orlando Magic, Fort Wayne Mad Ants

Central: Iowa Calves, Flint D-Fenders, Madison Muskies, Canton Charge

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WESTERN CONFERENCE

Pacific: Sacramento Sierras, Las Vegas Coyotes, Los Angeles Sails, Albuquerque Dukes

Northwest: Vancouver Grizzlies, Idaho Taters, Omaha Clods, Reno Bighorns

Southwest: Austin Toros, Frisco Legends, Hidalgo Javelinas, Tulsa Tornadoes

Central: Sioux Falls Pheasants, St. Louis Archers, Nashville Nightengales, Lafayette Zydeco

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Clifton+Chenier

Clifton Chenier, king of the bayou

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In typical Sport Change fashion, about all that can be said about a topic has been said…and then some.  It’s on to baseball next!  Thanks for reading.

SPORT CHANGE

The Ideal NBA.

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What would the NBA look like if Sport Change ruled the world?  There’s two ways of looking at it: 1.) Rewriting history.  2.) Suggesting plausible changes.  Let’s do both.

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Scenario 1: Revisionist History

Let us pick up in the year 1979, following the conclusion of the ’78-’79 NBA season.  In the offseason, interests in Salt Lake City, Utah, make a strong yet unsuccessful bid to buy the New Orleans Jazz.  New Orleans retains it’s team, but the NBA takes notice.  The next year, in 1980, the league rings in the new decade by adding two expansion teams: the Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Raptors–named after a dinosaur, the Utahraptor, that was discovered a few years hence.  The NBA finds good footing in the 1980s, with a few realignments here and there.  In the mid-eighties, an attempt is made to move the Kansas City Kings to California, but the Kings stay in KC.  By the end of the decade, fan support has piqued the interest of cities around North America, and the league expands by two: the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets.  In 1989, the league ignores an effort to bring a franchise to the ridiculous city of Orlando, Florida, but does award a franchise to Minneapolis.  The new team successfully buys the name ‘Lakers’ back from Los Angeles; who in turn now call themselves the Los Angeles Wolves.   The Wolves’ brand explodes in popularity, and thwarts the efforts of the San Diego Clippers’ attempts to sail north.  In 1990, the league grants yet another expansion team–this time to Baltimore, Maryland.  The basketball team is named the Baltimore Ravens, as a tip of the hat to Edgar Allan Poe.  Around this time, the Washington Bullets decide to rename the team in order to avoid association with violence.  The name Washington Stars is chosen, in honor of how Capitol cities are often represented by stars on a map.  In 1997, on the 50th anniversary of both teams leaving the NBA, the Toronto Huskies and Pittsburgh Ironmen are reinstated as franchises in the league, bringing the total to 30 teams.  Ten years later, the NBA adds two more teams: the Oklahoma City Cyclones and Memphis Monarchs.  For what it’s worth, the New Jersey Nets move to Brooklyn.  With 32 teams, the league realigns into four divisions in each of the two conferences, in a system modeled after the NFL.  As of today, the Sport Change Revisionist History Ideal NBA looks like this:

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EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic: Boston Celtics, New York Knickerbockers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brookyn Nets

Northeast: Toronto Huskies, Pittsburgh Ironmen, Baltimore Ravens, Washington Stars

Southeast: Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers

Central: Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers

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WESTERN CONFERENCE

Pacific: Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Wolves, San Diego Clippers, Phoenix Suns

Northwest: Seattle SuperSonics, Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Raptors

Southwest: San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Cyclones

Central: Minnesota Lakers, Memphis Monarchs, New Orleans Jazz, Kansas City Kings

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Scenario 2: Reasonable Plausibility

This section is devoted to legitimate, realistic changes that could come to the NBA.  There are a few different topics to discuss here, so let’s break it down issue by issue.

Disparity.  This is not the type of discussion that Sport Change typically gets involved with, it’s clear that there needs to be implementation of a few basic new policies to the NBA, in order to sustain success long-term.  The issue of disparity has to be addressed.  As of now, the NBA is essentially a glorified version of the Harlem Globetrotters, with about five teams in large markets vying for fan support and championships.  It’s a problem.  The other twenty teams exist solely to be the teams that are beaten by the top ten, with barely a ray of hope for a sustainable future.  It’s important to note here that on-court success is temporary, and teams like the Grizzlies and Thunder have a very good chance of being bottom-dwellers in ten years, if the franchises last that long.  It’s coming to a head, and the NBA must make one of two decisions.

     1.) contract the league until only the teams with a large market, perennial contention, and high profitability exist.  This would be a league where the only teams might be the Knicks, Nets, Celtics, Lakers, Clippers, Bulls, Heat, Raptors, 76ers, Mavericks, and Rockets.  With fewer teams, each team would have a few superstars and have a good shot at the title each year.  As that happens, each team could draw from their large fanbase and gain many new bandwagon fans.  This will not happen, of course.  The NBA used to operate this way, but along came the upstart ABA.  The competitions between the two leagues caused a nationwide land-grab and eventual merger.  If the NBA contracted, another pro basketball league would crop up.

     2.) negotiate a legitimate salary cap system, like the one used by the NFL.  Currently, the voices of the players union and the large market franchises are certainly loud enough to drown out the squeaks from the small market teams on the brink.  This makes for bad basketball.  There are many reasons why the NFL is by far the most successful pro sports league around, but a major reason is because fans of every single team (except maybe the Jaguars) enter each season knowing that they have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs and/or win the Super Bowl.  That said, the NFL example has also proven that sustainable franchises (Steelers, Patriots, Giants) can cleverly walk the minefields of free agency and the draft, and thus retain perennial success.  Cap it!

Expansion.  If a salary cap were in place, I believe that the NBA could successfully expand the league by two teams.  Dilution of the talent pool would be minimal in a world of parity, and this would provide a few more opportunities for all the talented ballplayers in Europe and out of college to make a living in basketball.  Each team has an active roster of only 13 players; meaning 390 NBA players.  The NFL in all of it’s 32 team glory, suits up 53 players per team, or 1,696 players each year.  In a fair system, two more teams can be added.  As of this writing, the most obvious candidates are Seattle, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and the two Missouri cities–St. Louis and Kansas City.  Since it’s expected that the Kings will move to Seattle, my top two would be Kansas City and Pittsburgh.  KC is a slam dunk, since the Sprint Center is already standing and ready.  Pittsburgh is more of a wildcard, as the team would be competing with the Penguins in a market not known for supporting pro basketball.  I still stand by the choices.  Kansas City would reignite the Kings brand/history, in much the same way as the Sonics probably will.  Pittsburgh could go a number of different ways with their brand, but I’m going to suggest the Pittsburgh Vipers, or Pitt Vipers.

Relocation.  As alluded to above, we’ll assume that the Kings will go to Seattle.  Many of the other small-market teams (Charlotte, New Orleans, etc.) that are often brought up in relocation discussions will likely see their financial success be tied to on-court success.  Other small markets teams (Utah, Oklahoma City, Orlando) may see a plummeting of attendance as big-name players (Dwight Howard, James Harden, etc.) are siphoned away.  What I mean by that is that there isn’t much of a need for relocation in the NBA once Sacramento moves to Seattle.  The only move I’ll make is to send the Orlando Magic to Baltimore, since Baltimore deserves a team more than Disney.  In honor of the Charm City, we’ll change Magic to Charms.

Rebranding.  The NBA has many terrible brands, but I’ll try to keep this realistic.  Yes, I’d like to see the Utah Jazz change their name, but it just isn’t going to happen.  I’d like to see the Pacers become the Racers and the Nets become the Knights, but it’s not worth the fight.  I’ll narrow it to the Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Bobcats, and Toronto Raptors.  It’s ridiculous that not only did Memphis retain Vancouver’s region-specific nickname, they haven’t changed it yet.  There might not be a great list of options, but a name like Tennessee Stallions would be a big improvement.  We’ll go with the same name we used in the revisionist history, the Memphis Monarchs.  As stated before, I’m a fan of the Bobcats nickname.  Of course, I’m also a fan of the “Bring back the buzz” movement and the push to make the Charlotte Hornets happen again.  Deal.  The Raptors’ nickname drives me crazy because not only is it a minor-league level moniker, but it’s a one-off reference to Jurassic Park.  As much as Toronto fans want to see the Huskies name return, I’m sticking them with the now vacated Bobcats moniker.

Realignment.  With 32 teams, the logical alignment structure would be either eight divisions of four teams each (like the NFL) or four of eight.  As it is now, the NBA’s alignment isn’t terrible, but a few tweaks could improve it.  Having two Pacific Northwest teams (Seattle and Vancouver) relocate to the southern US threw it out of balance a bit, and the system can be reworked.  Let’s take a look:

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EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic: Boston Celtics, New York Knickerbockers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brookyn Nets

Northeast: Toronto Bobcats, Pittsburgh Vipers, Baltimore Charms, Washington Wizards

Southeast: Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers

Central: Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers

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WESTERN CONFERENCE

Pacific: Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, San Diego Clippers, Phoenix Suns

Northwest: Seattle SuperSonics, Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz

Southwest: San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder

Central: Minnesota Timberwolves, Memphis Monarchs, New Orleans Pelicans, Kansas City Kings

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In the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I gotta say about that.”  There’s the Sport Change Ideal NBA discussion.  Make comments, provide feedback, make suggestions, and they will be listened to.  Thanks for reading.  Coming up next: the Ideal NBA Developmental League.

SPORT CHANGE

Sport Change has just completed six full months of reporting and studying the subjects dearest to Sport Change’s heart.  Much of that work has built to articles that will come within the next four months–the Ideal Leagues.

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The premise

Like most random sports voices on the internet, Sport Change likes to opine and reimagine all sorts of things sports-related.  Though Sport Change has a steady group of followers and daily page-visitors, the voice of the site is just one of many with no actual say or sway.  As such, there is full creative license to reshape teams and leagues through the ever-available medium of fantasy.  The Ideal Leagues are simply what sports leagues (both pro and minor) would look like if Sport Change ruled the world–or rather if the world had independently arranged itself better to Sport Change’s liking.

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Ongoing and participative

Though each Ideal League will be presented as something resembling a finished product, each league could become subject to change due to real-world changes or through the uncovering of previously undiscovered knowledge.  Additionally, Sport Change readers can make their voices heard by posting opinions on our message boards.  These opinions may work to effect Sport Change’s Ideal Leagues, so don’t hesitate to participate.

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The gist

To begin the Ideal Leagues, we will be starting toward the top of the American sports pyramid with the Big Four professional sports (NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB) and top minor-league or semipro leagues.  Each league will exist in a fantasy world of sorts, and decisions made about one league are to be informed by decisions made in another.  The primary topics covered will be realignment, rebranding, relocation, and other forms of reimagining; in the context of both historic narratives and real-world scenarios.

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The schedule

February is for football.  The NFL will be first up, followed by an scenario for a resurrection of the USFL.  Teams such as the Houston Oilers and San Antonio Gunslingers will be mentioned.

March is for basketball.  There won’t be much NCAA March Madness talk, but Sport Change will weigh in on an Ideal NBA and NBA Developmental League.

April is for baseball.  While teams take to the field, Sport Change will be unrolling the Ideal MLB.  Additionally, there will be several posts on Minor League Baseball and independent ball.

May is for hockey.  Expect an Ideal NHL and perhaps AHL as well.

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Throughout all of this, there may be the occasional stray post to weigh in on a hot topic or an idea that just can’t wait, such as a Territorial Mock Draft for the NFL in April.  If you’re curious about the Sport Change take on the New Orleans Pelicans’ logo, all I can say is…meh.

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Sym-meh-try

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Thanks for reading.  Stay alert for the Ideal Leagues–it should be fun.  Have a great day!

SPORT CHANGE

When a sports team moves to a new city, should the team’s history be carried along with it?  Please entertain Sport Change as Sport Change takes a break from rankings and realignment scenarios to wax philosophic on the subtle considerations involved in franchise relocation.

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Kevin Durant and his team moved to OKC five years ago, but did the “Sonics” move with them?

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I’ll quit using ‘Sport Change’ in the third person and I’ll talk to you straight.  This is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about for quite a while, and it was awoken out of dormancy by a recent post written by Chris Creamer on sportslogos.net–a favorite website of mine.  The topic of that post was related to the branding possibilities brought up by the rumors of the Sacramento Kings’ possible relocation to Seattle.  Chris Creamer is primarily curious about whether the Seatte Supersonics brand will be resurrected or if the Kings brand will move with the team.  Chris’s piece raised the bigger question of what constitutes a team’s identity and a team’s history.  Like many other sports fans, Chris’s take on the matter is that when a team moves, a team moves it’s history and vestigial identity with it.  I disagree with this notion, and will attempt to explain why.  There’s a lot of gray area in this discussion, but I’ll try my best to address those questions and articulate an argument.

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If the Sonics retake their history, what does that mean for a franchise that has seen many incarnations since 1945.

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What is a team?

Let’s start with the basic question and build from there.  As far as I can observe, a team is comprised of a few elements: 1.) Players, coaching staff, and team employees.  2.) Trademarks and branding materials.  3.) History.  4.) Fans.

Who really owns a sports team?

Let’s make no mistake here: a sports franchise is an object that can be bought and sold by those wealthy enough to do so.  A franchise is a company that holds the legal rights to any contracted employees and any trademarks.  If a team owner wishes to sell the team, relocate the team, or make the team public property–they have the right to do so.  Of the four elements listed above, the owner has the strongest hold on number 1, and the grip loosens as we move through to number 4.  In my opinion, the order of importance is reversed and the definition of ‘team’ should begin with fans and history.

What is a team’s identity?

Though a team is (in most cases) a private franchise, the team’s identity is harder to pin down.  History and fan support are the core of a team’s identity, but branding materials also factor in.  A team’s nickname, logos, team colors, and uniforms are synonomous with the team, and though they are liable to change over the years–they are part and parcel of the team’s identity.  Besides following the linear path of a team (Chicago Cardinals to St. Louis Cardinals to Arizona Cardinals) there are other unique ways a team can find definition.

An old way and a new way.

Traditionally, when a sports team would relocate, it was analogous to a person moving to a new city. Teams would move their belongings, history, and name with them.  They were the same person, but with new surroundings.  A franchise’s history went with the owner, of course, but so did the branding materials and in many cases–the fans.  Taking a good look at the current era of franchise relocation, it’s clear that things have changed.  It’s gotten more complicated.

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There was a time when franchise relocation meant cold-hearted loss for fans who had identified with the identity of their team.  It also meant no chance to ever regain that identity.

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Here are five categories that relocated teams can fall into:

1.) A team that moves to a distinct new location and retains history and brand elements.  Place name and fan base change, but much of the old identity is left in tact.  Perhaps the best examples of this come from the Big Four’s westward expansion of the middle twentieth century: LA Dodgers, LA Lakers, and San Francisco Giants.

2.) A team that ‘moves’ to a location that is in the same region (geographically and culturally) as the previous city and retains the basic elements of the team–history, fan base, and some brand elements.  To get scientific about it, let’s say a move within 100 miles East of the Mississippi or within the same state if West of the Mississippi.  The Brooklyn Nets are an obvious recent example, and the Baltimore/Washington Bullets would arguably fall into this category as well.

3.) A team that moves to a distinctly new location, establishes new brand elements/team identity, but retains linear franchise history.  This is a common scenario, both traditionally and currently–whether it’s the Washington Senators becoming the Texas Rangers or the Houston Oilers becoming the Tennessee Titans.

4.) A team that moves to a new location, but picks up brand elements and fan base of a former team in that location.  This is a scenario that was common in bygone eras, then essentially non-existent for several decades before reemerging in recent years.  Though they reactivated their franchise through expansion, the Cleveland Browns are good example.

5.) A team that moves to a new location and leaves all elements of team identity with the former location.  This is new idea that occurred notably when the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore, and the Ravens started a new linear history as if they were an expansion team.

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Ray Lewis was the first draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens franchise in 1996. He has never been affiliated with the history of the Cleveland Browns.

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Let’s look at the last ten franchise relocations that have occurred in the Big Four, and see which category or categories they fall into:

(2012) New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn Nets.  Category #2.  This is a classic example of a team moving to a new location, but still within the same geographic area.  Of course it makes sense for the Nets to retain the New Jersey team’s history–they even kept the team nickname.

(2011) Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg Jets.  Category #4.  Here’s an example of the newer phenomenon of cities being reoccupied by a pro club and picking up an old team’s brand elements.  The new Jets still have Atlanta’s history, though, and the old Jets history is down in the desert.

(2008) Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City Thunder. Categories #3/#5.  This is a unique one.  The Thunder were born with a completely new brand and fan base–essentially all that remained of the Sonics was the players/personnel.  The city of Seattle holds the rights to the SuperSonics name and team colors, though the Thunder own the team’s history.  It’s likely that a new Sonics team would have to buy the history back from Oklahoma City.  It’s a brave new world.

(2005) Montreal Expos to Washington Nationals. Categories #3/#4.  On the surface, this relocation just looks like a classic #3–relocation and rebranding.  However, there have been a few different baseball teams in Washington called the Nationals in bygone eras, and the Nats draw from their history–whether official or not.

(2002) Charlotte Hornets to New Orleans Hornets. Category #1.  A simple relocation that is currently facing a rebrand–reportedly as the New Orleans Hornets.  There has been plenty of talk as well about the Charlotte Hornets regaining their old moniker.  Team nickname relocation is a new topic, and it reflects the trend toward nostalgia that is ever-present in the Big Four.

scouting-the-NBA1-610x400 (1)

When the New Orleans Pelicans fly to town, will the Hornets buzz back to Charlotte? If so, we would have a new precedent for brand relocation.

(2001) Vancouver Grizzlies to Memphis Grizzlies. Category #1.  This is a classic #1 branding gaffe–right up there with the Lakers and Jazz.  Memphis could’ve pulled off a clean #3 and started with a totally new brand, but they foolishly clung to the Grizzlies identity.  I can’t imagine British Columbians are as heartsick watching their old Grizzlies continue play as Brooklyn Dodger fans were over the years–it’s the brand that is the problem.

(1997) Houston Oilers to Tennessee Titans. Category #3.  A rebrand/relocation that was pulled off very well.  The team played as the Tennessee Oilers for a year or two, but that never felt right.  It would’ve been preferable if the city of Houston had somehow been able to retain the rights to the Oilers’ brand and history and transferred them to the Texans.

(1997) Hartford Whalers to Carolina Hurricanes. Category #3.  Not much to say about this one.  It’s a classic number three, done fairly well.

(1996) Cleveland Browns to Baltimore Ravens. Category #5.  This is where things got very interesting for the topic of relocation.  When the Browns moved to Baltimore, the brand was put on hold and the Ravens were reborn as a new franchise.  If only the same method had been applied to the Baltimore Colts move to Indy in the eighties.  Today we would have a team in Baltimore called the Colts that could claim history of Johnny Unitas, Bert Jones, and other old Colts teams.

(1996) Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix Coyotes. Category #3.  This is another basic number three, but with two funny twists all these years later.  1.) The Winnipeg Jets became a team again.  2.) The Coyotes are probably the the NHL team that is most likely to move.  If only they had moved to Winnipeg instead the Atlanta Thrashers–then the history could’ve been retained.  Funny how that works out.

PhoenixCoyotes1990s

The Coyotes should’ve tucked their tail between their legs and moved back to Winnipeg a few years ago.

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Looking forward

Now let’s look at a few upcoming relocation possibilities and see where they land:

-Sacramento Kings to Seattle.  This is the hottest relocation possibility in the Big Four currently, and it looks like it may very well happen.  If so, it’s almost a given that Seattle would reapply the SuperSonics moniker/team colors, and look to buy back their history from Oklahoma City.  It’s a shame that the history of the Royals/Kings NBA franchise would reach a dead end, but we’ll cover that in a bit.  This would either be a category #4 (Winnipeg Jets) or a category #5 (Baltimore Ravens).

-An NHL team to Quebec City.  There have been plenty of passing mentions of the NHL increasing it’s presence in Canada through expansion or relocation.  The most likely candidate is Quebec City, who are still stinging from losing the Nordiques to Colorado in the mid-nineties.  Construction on a new arena has begun, and it seems like a lock that that the league will occupy it.  If so, it’s very likely that the Quebec Nordiques would be reborn as a franchise.  Most likely, this would be a situation similar to the Winnipeg Jets–a category #4.

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If Quebec gets and NHL team, it would be hard to brand them as anything but the Nordiques.

-The Tampa Bay Rays to….?  There is always plenty of speculation about the Rays relocating, and Sport Change has looked deeply into this issue.  If the Rays were to move to to say, Indiana, Louisville, Portland, or Oklahoma City–it would likely be either a #3 rebrand or a #1 brand retention.

-An NFL team to Los Angeles.   It’s very likely that there will be an NFL team in L.A. within a few years.  It’s quite unclear which team this would be, but the most likely candidates are probably the Chargers, Raiders, Rams, Jaguars, and Buccaneers.  Each of the first three teams were once located in L.A. and are in-state/West of Mississippi.  If they were to move, branding materials and history would likely move with them–so category #2, like the Nets.  If the Bucs or Jags moved, it would likely be a rebranding and retention of team history–category #3.

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If the Jaguars moved to LA, can you really imagine them retaining the brand? Well…I guess they did it with the Lakers and Dodgers.

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THE RULES

As we all move forward into a new era of Big Four relocation, we should discuss what the rules of relocation are–unwritten though they may be.  All of this can be grouped into two basic rules:

Rule #1:  

In most cases, the brand should be left behind with the vacated city.  The city would hold the rights to these elements, like in the case of the Sonics.  As stated earlier, it would be a shame to see the history of the Cincinnati Royals/Kansas City Kings franchise come to an end, but the brand should remain available for pickup (through expansion or relocation) by any city that formerly held that brand.  There are exceptions to this, of course.  Category #2 relocations (like the Nets) are perfectly acceptable and the brand/history should be retained.  Additionally, I think that it’s acceptable for a brand under twenty years old and without a championship (like the Rays) to retain these elements as they move.  This is acceptable if the brand is universal–the sun’s rays shine everywhere (well, maybe not Portland) so a team like the Indiana Rays would be fine.  The Grizzlies fall into this exception, but made the terrible mistake of retaining a region-specific identity.

Rule #2:

In most cases, history is put on hold.  In this modern era of relocation, it’s unnecessary for a team like the Nationals to retain the history of the Expos.  That history should be left with Montreal.  If the city ever got a new team, they could reactivate and claim that history–even with a new brand.  A new Sonics team or a new Nordiques team should have full access to team history within the time that the city held that brand.  The history is the story of the franchise’s relationship with it’s city and it’s fans.  When a team relocates, history is vestigial at best and burdensome at worst.  Again, it’s acceptable to carry history if the team relocates within 100 miles East of the Mississippi or within the same state in the West.  On the Eastern seaboard, we could even say 50 miles.  The Baltimore/Washington Bullets and New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets would fall within that rule of radius.

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If Montreal ever gets another team, shouldn’t they have access to the Expos’ history?

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That sums it up.  It’s certainly an adjustment and any change can feel awkward.  However, what feels more awkward is the current methods.  These days, it’s like a Wild West of teams choosing from any of the five categories.  This will make franchise history tracking difficult and lead to identity crises for fans.  Can the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets claim their three WHA championships from the seventies?  Not as long as the Phoenix Coyotes are wearing them like identification tags on a dog collar.

Thanks for reading and please leave comments to get a discussion going.  Keep checking back for more posts as the winter moves along.

SPORT CHANGE

It hasn’t been long since Sport Change’s last pause for news, but there a few juicy tidbits that cannot wait until the next newsflash.

 

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1.)  It was just announced that Washington D.C. mayor Vincent Gray implied that he would sit down with the Washington Redskins front office to persuade the team to change their offensive nickname prior to moving back to the city proper.  As the team is counting on public support for a new downtown D.C. stadium, they may have extra incentive to change the name.  It’s uncommon for public officials to make that sort of statement about a sports team’s inner workings, so this may be a sign of change to come.  What’s Sport Change’s take?  Change the gosh darn name already!!!  It’s considered to be the most offensive nickname in all of sports by Native Americans from coast to coast.  I’m all for preserving history, but sometimes the need for change is blatantly obvious.  The team should’ve had a new name twenty years ago when they first began to feel the pressure to change.  For years, I’ve thought that Washington Warriors would be a terrific way to retain vestiges of team history, while toning down the disrespect.  The alliteration would be terrific as well.  Washington Wolves would be a great name.  Washington Stallions would work.  Washington Grays would be a nice tip of the hat to the old Homestead Grays, and you can bet that Mayor Gray would be on board with that name.

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2.) In other news, Seattle investor Chris Hansen has contacted the Maloof family about purchasing the Sacramento Kings.  This isn’t exactly shocking news, as rumors of the Kings moving to Seattle have buzzed around for the last year or two.  Hansen is in the process of getting an arena built in Seattle that could house both an NBA and NHL team.  If the city got an NBA franchise, they would play in old Key Arena until the new arena is completed.  What’s the Sport Change take?  Yes, make it happen.  As sad as it is to see any city lose a franchise, the Kings are ready to go.  Sacramento is a second tier sports city that is lucky to have held on to an NBA franchise this long.  As of this writing, they are ranked dead last in attendance among all NBA teams this year, and have been at or near the bottom for several years.  Sacramento is the type of city that should have one of the best Minor League Baseball teams, but no MLB team.  Perhaps they will become the model market for the NBA D-League.  Seattle, on the other hand, is a top tier sports city that deserves a team after OKC ripped the Sonics out the fans’ hands.  If you haven’t seen Sonicsgate, take the time to do so.  It will be great to see the Seattle Supersonics reborn in the near future.  Sport Change’s ideal situation, incidentally, would have the Kings moving back to Kansas City and another team (say, the Magic) move to Seattle.  Or the NBA should roll out two more expansion teams.  Keep an eye out for the upcoming Sport Change Ideal NBA.

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Vote+Or+Die!

3.) One last bit of news isn’t really news at all.  It’s a reminder to take the time to vote in the Sport Change Team Nickname Mega-poll.  The mega-poll was just published in two installments.  Click here for Part 1 (NFL & MLB) and here for Part 2 (NBA & NHL.)  Your vote may be considered as Sport Change embarks on the Ideal League series.  Rock the vote!  Vote or die!  De-vote yourself to democratic action!

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That’s all that’s worth saying for now.  More great Sport Change posts coming up real soon.  Till next time.

SPORT CHANGE

As a follow-up to our previous post about fifty monikers that could work in the Big Four, Sport Change will now take the top half of that list and rank them.  Here’s the top 25.

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Each nickname listed below is currently unused by an team in the Big Four (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) professional sports leagues.  The nicknames are ranked and given suggested uses.  For detailed descriptions of each nickname, read the top fifty post.  

For criteria on what makes a good team nickname in pro sports, consult the Moniker Monitor ground rules. 

Let’s get right into it.  Starting from the top:

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1.  Knights.  Suggested uses: would work well ahead of Indiana, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, or most any city in any sport.

2.  Wolves.  Suggested uses: would work well as a nickname for Washington, Los Angeles, Arizona, or several other markets.

3.  Pilots.  Suggested uses: NHL may be best bet, with Seattle expansion or a rebranding of the Blue Jackets.

4.  Grays.  Suggested uses: Washington sports teams would benefit from historical connection with the Homestead Grays.  Would work for an NHL expansion team in Seattle.

5.  Pioneers.  Suggested uses: Portland would be the ideal landing place due to alliteration and Oregon Trail history.

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6.  Stallions.  Suggested uses: would work with many locations: Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Houston, Washington, Baltimore, St. Louis, and many more.

7.  Arrows. Suggested uses: Arizona would be ideal due to alliteration, but Arrows would work for a variety of locales.

8.  Comets.  Suggested uses: would fit the NHL exceptionally well, with Kansas City being perhaps the best choice.

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9.  Snakes.  Suggested use: would make for a better nickname than Diamondbacks.

10.  Mustangs.  Suggested use: Houston and Mustangs sound quite well together.

11.  Vipers.  Suggested use:  If a new team comes to Pittsburgh, the Pitt Vipers would be a pun with teeth.

12.  Cyclones.  Suggested uses: Oklahoma City or Kansas City would be the best bets, but Brooklyn could also transfer the Cyclones moniker to the Big Four.

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13.  Bulldogs.  Suggested uses: would work best in NFL or NHL; perhaps retained by AHL Hamilton franchise if the city joins the NHL.

14.  Huskies.  Suggested use: Toronto’s pro basketball team used to be the Huskies.  Without precedent of that kind, the name remains within the domain of NCAA.

15.  Monarchs.  Suggested uses: Perhaps it would work with Brooklyn or Memphis.

16.  Dukes.  Suggested uses: Again, perhaps Brooklyn or Memphis.

17.  Griffins.  Suggested use: Brooklyn is maybe the only market that could pull this off–perhaps in the NHL.

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18.  Generals.  Suggested use: At this point, Washington is the only market where this could work.

19.  Renegades.  Suggested use:  Something to consider for Tennessee in a rebrand of the Grizzlies.

20.  Miners.  Suggested use: could work as a blue-collar type nickname in the right locale; perhaps Kentucky or West Virginia if they were ever granted franchises.

21.  Scorpions.  Suggested use: Arizona is the only market where this would work, and it could work.

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22.  Blackbirds.  Suggested use: right now there are too many birds in the Big Four, but Blackbirds is better than many of them.

23.  Bisons.  Suggested use: it’s long too late, but Bisons would’ve been better than Bills for Buffalo.

24.  Cougars.  Suggested use: remains a universally acceptable name, though other connotations come into play.

25.  Maroons.  Suggested use: it’s hard to imagine this name coming back to the Big Four, but if Montreal received another NHL franchise this would be a slam dunk.  Or a slap shot.  Whatever.

31-32MtlMar

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Excellent.  The Sport Change Big Four moniker study is nearly complete.  Once votes are collected from our mega-polls, decisions can be made for nickname allocation in our Ideal Leagues.  If you haven’t voted yet, click here and here.  Thanks for reading!  Feel free to leave comments.

SPORT CHANGE

Leagues expand, teams relocate, and franchises change their names.  In the Big Four (NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL) there is usually at least one instance per year of one of these events occurring.  With 116 unique team nicknames (monikers) currently in use in those four leagues, what is left?

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The Seattle Pilots had a brief flight in the AL a few decades ago. Will the nickname someday resurface over the horizon?

First of all, it’s important to define what makes a good nickname for professional sports teams.  Luckily, Sport Change has already done just that.    Many team nicknames are respectable based simply on a rich history of a particular franchise, but we’re talking about new nicknames in this post. New nicknames have to stand up at face value and maintain respectability in good times and bad.

An easy way to maintain respectability is to keep the moniker general and universal.  Save the wacky and novel names for minor league, college, and semipro teams.  Nicknames like ‘Reds,’ ‘Bears,’ ‘Warriors,’ and ‘Stars’ hold up well over the years and are respectable even when the team is struggling.

Having a nickname that is relevant to a particular region can work well (Steelers, Brewers, Cowboys) or it can steer a team (Ravens, Diamondbacks, Heat) into borderline ridiculousness.  Referencing the region in a very specific manner works better at semipro levels.

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Sometimes alliteration works very well. Other times…not so much.

Alliteration can be sweet (Pittsburgh Pirates, Tennessee Titans) or it can steer teams (Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington Wizards) into questionable territory.  At the pro level, alliteration should be seen as a bonus quality to a name that would stand up at face value even if the city changed it’s name.

Intimidation can be effective, but it works best with the full contact sports.  Can you imagine a baseball team called the Predators?  The NBA can go either way.  An intimidating nickname like ‘Hawks’ can coexist alongside a bland nickname like ‘Suns.’

With these ideas in mind, Sport Change spent several months collecting nicknames that are currently unused in the Big Four, but could potentially work.  The nicknames have been grouped into categories and the best will be selected, ranked, and given suggested uses.  Enjoy!

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Gladiators is tough and intimidating, but would it work at the pro level?

Category #1: The Fighting Folks

Warriors, soldiers, or other people engaged in combat is a good source of sports nicknames.  Knights is a great option that is very surprisingly unused in the Big Four.  The Charlotte Knights are a minor league baseball team, and the NCAA has the the Rutgers Scarlet Knights among other variations.  Archers is a nickname that is basically unused in sports, but could work at any level.  Gladiators is a name that is used at semipro levels; where it may be best served.

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Category #2:  Authority Figures

Kings is good enough to have two representatives in the Big Four, but there are several other authority figure names still available.  Monarchs is currently used by Old Dominion university, and former uses include the Negro League Kansas City franchise and the Sacramento WNBA team.  Barons is a great name that was used by the NHL’s Cleveland Barons in the 70s, and is essentially claimed by the AA baseball Birmingham Barons.  Dukes is a name that is rarely used, but could work well in the right situation.  With Albuquerque switching their baseball team’s name to the Isotopes, Duquesne U probably has the most visible use of Dukes.  Generals was used prominently by the New Jersey Generals of the former USFL–a team owned by Donald Trump that drafted Herschel Walker. Colonels was Kentucky’s ABA moniker, and is used by a few colleges.  Captains is a basic name that is seen in baseball’s Midwest Leaguers, the Lake County Captains.  I suppose somebody can be the captain of the Captains.

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The Lake County Captains have a great name that’s so obvious that it was passed over by many other teams. But the Big Four?

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Category #3:  Men at Work

Occupational names are usually good bets for sports teams, as evidenced by the Packers, Oilers, and Steelers.  Lumberjacks is a name that would hold up in the right location, and ditto that for Miners.  Pilots is a very solid moniker that was once used by the former American League Seattle franchise.

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Category #4:  Rogue Spirits

Nicknames like Mavericks and Trailblazers reflect the romanticized American image of the rugged individualist, and they work fairly well in most cases.  Pioneers is an obvious name that is surprisingly unused in the Big Four.  Independents was the name of the old NFL team in Rock Island, Illinois, and has some charm to it.  Renegades is a fun one that’s used by a few semipro teams here and there.  Legends is a bit eyeroll-inducing, but isn’t bad overall.  It works well for minor league baseball’s Lexington franchise.

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The ABA’s Carolina Cougars were one notable use of the moniker in professional sports.

Category #5: Raining Cats & Dogs

Moving on to the ever-popular animal category, let’s take a look at some cat and dog monikers that are widely employed just about everywhere except the Big Four.  Wildcats is a great nickname, but it’s too overused in the NCAA to work in the Big Four.  It would also seem redundant to have Wildcats when so many other wild cats are used as monikers.  Cougars is a great name (at face value) that has popped up a few times in the Big Four and other pro leagues, but two factors come into play here: 1.) Several colleges use Cougars.  2.) there’s the other meaning of ‘cougar’ that would cause Twitter to overload if a new team was called the Cougars.  On the canine side of things, Wolves is certainly one of the most underutilized monikers out there.  Timberwolves comes close, but there’s not use of just ‘Wolves’ in either NCAA D-I or Minor League Baseball.  And that’s 500 teams!  There’s Wolfpack and Seawolves, but no just ‘Wolves.’  The most visible use of just ‘Wolves’ is probably the Chicago Wolves of the AHL.  Huskies is a name that would be hard for a Big Four team to pull off, considering the prominence of Uconn and Washington U.  The Toronto Huskies were once a team in NBA, and there’s even a push to change the Raptors name to Huskies.  Another doggy moniker, Bulldogs, is very widely used in colleges and high schools, but may find it’s way back to the Big Four.

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Category #6:  Bird Words

The Big Four is basically an aviary of bird-based monikers, some good (Eagles, Hawks, Penguins, Falcons), some acceptable (Cardinals, Ravens, Blue Jays, Orioles), and some questionable (Pelicans, Ducks, Seahawks).  Is there room for any more bird nicknames?  If so, Blackbirds would be a simple and effective moniker that would be easy to color-coordinate.  Owls is fun and fierce, though Temple may have staked their claim.  Roadrunners is a bit minor-leaguish, and would only work for a team in the Southeast United States.

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Bisons (or Buffaloes) is a good all-American nickname that could be better represented in the Big Four.

Category #7:  Prairie Critters

There are some nicknames that take inspiration from the old American image of animals grazing on open prairie.  Buffaloes/Bisons are represented in NCAA, Minor League Baseball, and elsewhere, but would work well as a Big Four monikers in some areas.  The Buffalo Bills only peripherally use the creature as a mascot.  Stallions is a nickname that seems to appear in nearly every name-the-team contest that comes up, and it’s solid through and through.  Mustangs is another horsey nickname that could work in the Big Four.

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Category #8:  Serpents

Diamondbacks is the only snake-based moniker in the Big Four, and I don’t think it has to be that way.  Snakes itself is a solid nickname.  Getting more specific, Rattlers is an effective nickname that shakes it’s tail in NCAA and MiLB.  Cobras is another good one, though it may be best on the semipro level.  Vipers is another nice one with extra teeth that could work in Big Four.

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Could Vipers work for a team in the Big Four? Only in the right situation.

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Category #9:  Creepy Critters

Some nicknames take it to a level that is even creepier than snakes.  Spiders is effective, if repellent.  It works well for Richmond U.  Scorpions would work well for a desert team, and is largely unused.  Bats works great for Louisville’s AAA affiliate, and may only work if Louisville had a team in MLB.

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Category #10:  Mythical Creatures

Mythical creatures are borderline acceptable for the Big Four, but could work if given the right chance.  Griffins is a cool name that shows up here and there on the Minor League and collegiate circuits.  Dragons is another name-the-team contest staple, but Dayton and Drexel are already making terrific use of the moniker.  Thunderbirds is a powerful beast that could work in an appropriate location, but it may be a moniker that some would take offense to.

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With all the weather-related nicknames in sports, it’s strange that the most visible use of Tornadoes is the independent Worcester club of the Can-Am league.

Category #11:  Weather Report

There are plenty of weather-related nicknames out there, and it’s hard to imagine more being added to the Big Four.  That said, Tornadoes and Cyclones are obvious choices for weather monikers.  Cyclones is prominently used by Iowa State, but I’m not sure that would exclude the Big Four.  A wildcard would be Whirlwinds, but it’s hard to see that nickname working well at the pro level.

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Category #12:  Active Objects

Another category of monikers is the animate (but not living) objects.  This isn’t quite like the inanimate monikers like Spurs and Nets, and is more like the Jets or Sabres.  Arrows is a solid nickname, especially if used alliteratively.  Comets is another good one, and with the folding of Houston’s WNBA franchise, it is underused.  Aces would be a fun one for a Wild West type team, like AAA’s Reno Aces.  The Las Vegas UFL team uses Locomotives, and that’s a nickname that could work in the Big Four.  Another could be Racers, a more active name than Pacers.

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Murray State uses a name that the Indiana Pacers wish they had.

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Category #13:  Colors!

Finally, we’ll talk about the most colorful monikers of all: colors!  Colorful nicknames were once the standard, especially in Major League Baseball–where a team’s nickname reflected their socks.  The Big Four currently has three: Reds, Browns, and Blues.  Blues is more of a music genre nickname, but it’s a color nonetheless.  Cardinals also have their roots in the color Cardinal red rather than the bird.  Taking a look at other available colors reveals a lack of possibilities.  Oranges is tough to separate from the fruit, and Syracuse already uses Orange.  Yellows sounds like cowards.  Greens sounds like a salad.  Purples…it just doesn’t work.  Continuing in the Browns tradition of neutral colors, Grays is perhaps the best possibility of all.  The old Negro League Homestead Grays nearly influenced the name choice of the Washington Nationals a few years back.  Tans is short and to the point–I could see it.  Another muted color nickname is Maroons, which has been used in the NFL and NHL.  The metallic colors also have promise, with Silvers taking second place to Golds, of course.

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Grays is a terrific old name that was nearly chosen over Nationals when Washington was naming their baseball team.

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There are the fifty.  Next up on Sport Change will be the rankings of the Top 25 Potential Big Four team nicknames.  Stay tuned.

SPORT CHANGE