What's in a nickname? Talk of new, old Charlotte Hornets creating a buzz
Last Sunday's AFC wild- card playoff game was just the most recent reminder of identity theft in professional sports. The Colts were playing in Baltimore, against Baltimore, a haunting vision of visiting doppelgangers in blue-and-white, horseshoe logos and shoulder stripes.
That came in the wake of Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan's recent confirmation of his interest in bringing back the nickname "Hornets" a decade after the city of New Orleans absconded with Charlotte's previous NBA mascot.
If that deal goes through, New Orleans' team then could acquire a more appropriate handle -- it is considering "Pelicans" -- in the Pelican State.
Never mind that the logically superior reversal of NBA nickname-hacking would be a straight-up New Orleans-to-Utah swap -- "Hornets" settling in the Beehive State, with "Jazz" returning to the traditional birthplace of that music, bringing along the Jazz's old Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold.
It must be noted that New Orleans would have to pay as much as $3 million and to receive approval from the NBA Board of Governors to facilitate a name change, though commissioner David Stern has indicated a willingness to expedite the process in time for the 2013-14 season.
And meanwhile, a predictable groundswell to return to more relevant and tradition-rooted nicknames is afoot in cyberspace. There even has been a social media call for Minnesota to retrieve "Lakers" 52 years after the franchise left the self-proclaimed "Land of 10,000 Lakes" for Los Angeles, a land with a handful of reservoirs fed by the waters of the Colorado River.
The domino effect could get messy, given the emergence of expansion teams and the disappearance, in some locales, of certain sports. Atlanta twice has lost NHL teams, and the original Flames -- a reference to the burning of the city by Gen. William Sherman during the Civil War -- hardly fit their current Calgary home. (At least the transplanted Atlanta Thrashers became the Winnipeg Jets, after the first Jets incarnation moved to Phoenix and were called the Coyotes.)
Reasonably, the start-up American Football League Dallas Texans were reborn as the Kansas City Chiefs, as baseball's Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins, before the resurrected Senators went to Texas as the Rangers. The Seattle Pilots evolved into the Milwaukee Brewers.
But it took legal action to save the "Browns" for Cleveland. After the 1983 NFL season, owner Robert Irsay packed the Baltimore Colts (the nickname derived from the city's association with thoroughbred racing's Preakness Stakes) -- nickname, colors and all -- off to Indianapolis under the cover of night to avoid the city's threat of eminent domain.
So when Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, in 1995, likewise spirited away his operation to Baltimore, his abandonment of local loyalty was met with legal challenges by fans and the city of Cleveland. Modell was allowed to take his players and staff to Maryland -- where the team became the Ravens -- but had to leave the nickname, colors and club records behind, later to be revived with the expansion Browns in 1999.
Seattle took the same action in 2008, retaining "SuperSonics" for possible future use in the NBA when the team left town after 40 seasons and became the Oklahoma City Thunder. Just this week, Yahoo! Sports reported that an investor has contacted the Maloof family about buying the Sacramento Kings and setting up the possibility of the NBA's return to Seattle.
There are dissenting voices in this issue of rebranding. Minnesota Department of Health employee Stew Thornley, whose Minneapolis Lakers Web site is one of several he operates regarding sports history, emailed that he doubts applying that city's old nickname to the new team (Timberwolves) founded in 1989 would have allowed fans to "make a connection with the Lakers of Mikan and Pollard and Martin and Mikkelsen . . . For the sake of the history of the Minneapolis Lakers, I'm glad the name is still being used by a great team" -- even though it is 2,000 miles away in California.
But in Charlotte, talk of reclaiming the old hoops identity has led to a "We Beelieve: Charlotte . . . take back your Hornets!" Facebook page, which already has generated more than 10,000 thumbs up. Could the next step amid all this false impersonation be a turn toward geographical accuracy? The "New York" Giants and Jets play in New Jersey, the "Dallas" Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, the "Buffalo" Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y (and, since 2008, regular home games in Toronto, Canada), the "Washington" Redskins in Landover, Md., and so on.
Or will all this get fixed about the time the Dodgers come back to Brooklyn?