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How Did Your Favorite NBA Team Get Its Name? The Origin Of Every NBA Team's Name

Fadeaway World

Fadeaway World

Throughout history, certain cities across North America have been synonymous with the most powerful sports teams.

Cities such as Los Angeles and Boston are renowned for the Lakers and Celtics, while even the Knicks are held in very high regard by native New Yorkers.

But how did these teams get their names in the first place?

After all, no matter how famous these names are, most people won't be able to come up with such a unique name like the Lakers or Celtics. Even the most recently changed team name, The Pelicans, has raised some questions over the owner’s thinking.

It's time to uncover how every franchise got its name in the NBA.

Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks were first known as the Blackhawks, dating back to the late 1940s.

After joining the NBA in 1949, the Blackhawks moved to Milwaukee and then St. Louis in 1955. The Hawks became the Atlanta Hawks in 1968 and has remained ever since.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics were named by the original owner, Walter Brown, in 1946. His reason was that basketball had a long-standing tradition from the Old Celtics in New York, along with the fact that there are many Irish people in Boston!

Needless to say, Mr. Brown came up with possibly the second most famous name in NBA history.

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets were simply named after the basketball net. The Nets moved from New Jersey to New York, and then back to New Jersey.

Most recently, the Nets moved back to Brooklyn, New York. Despite all the hip-hopping between Jersey and New York, the Nets have always kept its name throughout time.

Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets name has a long and storied history in Charlotte sports, per Sporting News:

The phrase "Hornets" has been associated with Charlotte since the time of the Revolutionary War. Because of Charlotte's fierce resistance to British occupation, British commander Lord Cornwallis refered to the city as it as "a veritable nest of hornets."

Charlotte was awarded an NBA franchise in 1987. Originally, the team was to be called the Charlotte Spirit, but "Hornets" won a fan contest . The Charlotte Hornets played in the NBA from 1988 until the team left for New Orleans in 2002.

The Bobcats got its name as recently as 2004.

After the name was given following a "Name The Team" Contest, owner Bob Johnson loved that name and it stuck for a while until the team name was changed to the "Hornets". The orange and black jerseys were very stylish and were kept as the main attire.

Chicago Bulls

Team owner Richard Klein juggles between some names for the team, including The Matadors. It wasn't until his own son, Mark, uttered the phrase: "That is a bunch of bull!" when Klein decided that the team will be known as the Chicago Bulls.

Needless to say, the Bulls name is synonymous with a great franchise up until now.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland was another example of a franchise holding a contest to determine the team's name.

In 1970, a couple of finalists for the names remained including the Cavaliers, Jays, Towers, Foresters and Presidents. Ultimately, the Cavaliers eventually won the vote, and they've been playing under that name ever since.

Dallas Mavericks

Dallas received a new NBA team as recently as 1980. Once again, a contest was needed to choose between three finalists including the Mavericks, the Wranglers, and the Express (as per NBA.com).

Then-owner Donald Carter chose the Mavericks and the rest is history.

Denver Nuggets

Denver originally was known as the Rockets in the ABA but was forced to rename their club since the NBA already had the Rockets as an existing franchise.

Denver became the Denver Nuggets in regards to the Colorado gold-rush way back in the 1800s, where thousands of people across the United States flooded there to hopefully find some gold and solidify their fortunes.

Detroit Pistons

Owner Frank Zollner came up with the name Pistons after he owned a factory that manufactured pistons for various engines.

Zollner was originally based in Ft. Wayne, but eventually settled in Detroit where the Pistons are now proudly supported by the city.

Golden State Warriors

The Warriors have been recognized since the 1940s, where they were known as the Philadelphia Warriors as a baseball team.

It wasn't until the team moved to Golden State in 1971, that the team became known as the Golden State Warriors which remains today.

Houston Rockets

In reality, the name Rockets was first given back in 1967 to a team from San Diego. People were asked to choose a name for the San Diego team and to select the Rockets because at the time the space industry was big in San Diego.

When the Rockets moved to Houston in 1971, they simply retained the name (which fits due to a NASA space center located in Houston), and it is now one of the most recognized sports franchises in the US.

Indiana Pacers

The Indiana Pacers franchise, founded in 1967, was an ABA franchise in the beginning. The name “Pacers” became determined through the team's authentic organization of investors.

According to legal professional Richard D. Tinkham (a member of the original investing organization), the name was chosen because of Indiana's history with harness racing pacers, as well as the pace automobile used for the duration of the Indianapolis 500.

Los Angeles Clippers

When the Buffalo Braves moved to San Diego in 1978 (after San Diego had lost its Rockets franchise), team officials were determined to change the team's name, feeling that it didn't quite fit with its new city.

A name-the-team contest was held soon after, and the Clippers was the eventual winner. The name was chosen because San Diego was home to a lot of large sailing ships years ago, many of which were coined “clippers”.

The franchise relocated to Los Angeles in 1984 and opted to keep the Clippers name.

Los Angeles Lakers

For a Los Angeles team, the name makes absolutely no sense. It did, however, suit the old hometown of the Lakers, Minneapolis.

Minnesota is known as the "Land of 10,000 Lakes," and the nickname Lakers made perfect sense in 1947 when Minneapolis was awarded an NBL franchise. Not so much when they moved to Los Angeles in 1960.

Memphis Grizzlies

It is another form of situation "name made considerably more sense before relocation."

Once a franchise was awarded to Vancouver in 1994, team owners wanted a symbolic name for the city. A name-the-team contest led to the name Grizzlies after missing out with their first preference — the Mounties (thank you goodness that did not stick) —.

The team moved and the franchise to Memphis before the 2002-03 season.

Miami Heat

Miami turned into an NBA franchise in 1988, and a name-the-team contest was quickly carried out for name suggestions.

Thousands of entries poured in, along with names just like the Beaches, the Floridians, and the Suntan. However, Heat became considered the excellent of the bunch and now emblazons the Miami jerseys (per NBA.Com). The name is fitting to the city’s climate.

Milwaukee Bucks

The metropolis of Milwaukee had a name-the-team contest in 1968, and of the 10,000-plus entries, Bucks turned into selected as the team's call transferring forward.

Team officers felt that out of all the entries, Bucks maximum intently pondered the fish-and-sport mentality of the region (in line with NBA.Com). As animals go, Bucks is a pretty respectable team name.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota's new franchise turned into named, to no one's surprise, via a name-the-group contest back in 1986.

The most popular vote-getters inside the contest have been Timberwolves and Polars. The desire was left to the state's metropolis councils, who ultimately chose the Timberwolves (in line with Mentalfloss.Com's Scott Allen).

New Orleans Pelicans

In 2012, Tom Benson bought the New Orleans Hornets and immediately announced that they were going to change the team's name, per Marc J. Spears:

The Hornets planned to change their nickname since Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints, purchased the team on April 14. Benson also owns the rights to the nickname Pelicans.

The Hornets also considered the nicknames Krewe (groups of costumed paraders in the annual Mardi Gras carnival in New Orleans) and Brass.

Louisiana is the Pelican State. The brown pelican is the state bird and appears on the state flag and seal, and official state painting.

With young superstar Zion Williamson carrying the Pelican name, the future of the franchise is looking very bright.

New York Knicks

The founder of the New York Knicks, Ned Irish, is said to have made the decision to name his crew the Knickerbockers (shortened to Knicks) again in 1946 when New York was given a franchise in the Basketball Association of America (per Mentalfloss.Com).

The time period, Knickerbocker turned into a call given to Dutch settlers who got here to the New World. Many of these settlers got here to New York, so there's a variety of ancient meaning at the back of the name and the region.

Oklahoma City Thunder

When the Seattle Supersonics moved to Oklahoma City following the 2007-08 season, fanatics voted on the team's new call from a set list of possibilities.

The name Thunder was chosen over others including the likes of the Bison, Wind, Energy, Marshalls, and Barons.

The Thunder name has been pretty properly received, and on the grounds that Oklahoma reports vicious thunderstorms each year, it makes sense for the region’s climate.

Orlando Magic

Orlando first conducted his Name-the-Team contest in 1986, months before a franchise was awarded!

After joining the contest with thousands of prospective titles, four emerged as finalists — the Heat (not taken at the time), Tropics, Juice, and Magic (per NBA.com).

The Sun, Tropics, and Juice were all omitted for various different reasons, leaving the Magic as the choice for the Orlando franchise.

Philadelphia 76ers

The team was in search of a new name when the Syracuse Nationals moved to Philadelphia in 1963.

The name 76ers was chosen to refer to the signing of the Declaration of Independence that took place in the city of Philadelphia (per Scott Allen of Mentalfloss.com).

Phoenix Suns

In 1968, a name-the-team was created for Phoenix's expansion franchise, with Suns, Scorpions, Rattlers, and Thunderbirds emerging as the best possible name (due to the renowned desert landscapes in Phoenix).

The Suns were selected by the General Manager Jerry Colangelo — only 28 years old at the time — and that was it.

Portland Trail Blazers

In 1970, Portland was awarded an expansion license, and shortly afterward a name-the-team contest was declared.

Funnily enough, the name Pioneers was originally chosen as the most common, but it has already been adopted as a local college team name. Always common was the name Trail Blazers and it represented the same pioneering spirit, so it ultimately was chosen.

Sacramento Kings

Originally the Sacramento Kings were the Rochester Royals of the NBL.

Once they relocated to Cincinnati in 1957, the Royals retained their name but had to change it when they relocated to Kansas City and Omaha in 1972 (Kansas City had a baseball team named The Royals).

They kept the subject of royalty going when their name-the-team contest led to the Kansas City-Omaha Kings and the team relocated to Sacramento.

San Antonio Spurs

The Dallas Chaparrals, an ABA team that moved to San Antonio in 1973, was the eventual NBA team for San Antonio.

The Chaparrals soon became the Gunslingers of San Antonio and it seemed as if that would be the franchise's name going forward. Before the Gunslingers played a game, however, the team's ownership group began a name-the-team contest from which the name Spurs (per Ment) was chosen.

Seattle SuperSonics

The NBA franchise from Seattle which joined the league in 1967 needed a nickname, and ownership turned to the fans for help.

The fans chose the name SuperSonics, inspired by an aircraft that Boeing was working on in the Seattle area (per NBA.com) — the Supersonic Transport —.

The idea behind the plane never came to fruition but it helped to establish the nickname of the Seattle team. It is a shame Seattle does not have a team anymore.

Toronto Raptors

When an expansion franchise was awarded to Toronto in 1993, fans around the nation were immediately surveyed by the city to decide what the new name of the team will be.

The final list of possibilities was packed with animal names (by NBA.com)—beavers, bobcats, dragons, hogs, etc .— but all of them, Raptors (fuelled by the popularity of the movie Jurassic Park, according to Mentalfloss.com's Scott Allen) were selected.

Utah Jazz

The Utah Jazz makes sense only as a name when you know the history of the franchise.

Initially, the club became an expansion team in New Orleans in 1974, where the term Jazz makes no sense.

However, the team's ownership group agreed to move the franchise to Salt Lake City after the New Orleans Jazz recorded the worst record in the league during the 1978-79 season. They wanted to keep the name, Utah Jazz, and the rest is history.

Washington Wizards

There is not too much to talk about this one quite frankly. The nickname for the Bullets had been around for quite some time. Baltimore's franchise was called the Bullets in 1946, and the team in Washington kept the name from 1963 through 1996—over 30 years.

Team owner Abe Pollin, however, felt the name was projecting too much of a violent picture and decided to rename the team to the Wizards (per NBA.com) in 1996.