Before the last NBA season, one website, Grantland.com, got the brilliant idea to rank all 30 NBA team names. That’s not teams; that’s their names alone. Another website I like is called Hockey by Design, which celebrates uniforms and logos. The writer of that blog is a graphic designer who counted down all 30 NHL logos in 30 different articles, giving us new ways to look at what makes a good logo.
Those achievements impressed me because they contain a between-lines truth about sports many people try to ignore: Mascots and colors matter. It’s true that every team is going to have a base of hardcore followers no matter what, who love the team because of a deep, emotional, and personal connection and/or a great sense of civic pride. Much as we all hate them, though, plenty of teams actually need all those bandwagon fans in order to print enough cash to stay competitive in what is, ultimately, a national market where the smaller areas get eaten alive. No matter how many diehards are paying for tickets, they need the lukewarm fans from neutral areas to pay for the merchandise. So you better be packing a mascot and color set your country cousins in Montana would be damn proud to be seen in.
Of course, not all names are created equal. I know it, you know it, and damn if it ain’t fun to punch “best/worst team names” into a search engine and pour over the results. It’s an unfortunate fact of best/worst lists that writers tend to restrict themselves, though. Coming up with actual rankings makes things more particular and therefore a whole lot more difficult, and most writers can’t be bothered. They’ll come up with the 10 or 20 they personally have the most love for and/or biggest problems with, and this being the internet, half the time they’ll have absolutely no objective reasoning beyond “dis is da worst! Only fuckos lke this team!” That’s what makes the Grantland list and Hockey by Design all the more impressive: Both writers were visibly as objective as they could be while adhering to a constant set of standards with their personal opinions doing a minimum of violation. A good team logo or uniform should have this, that, and the other. A good team name should have a sense of regionalism, a memorable brand name, a pleasant audio aesthetic, originality, and perhaps a little bit of balance and ferocity. Sadly, even the brave, ambitious writers on the aforementioned websites seem to think only a fool would try to not only judge, but rank all 122 team names in all four big leagues in North America.
Readers, I am that fool.
The names on this first section of the list go far beyond just being bad. They transcend it in a way which can actively make fans question their loyalty to those teams as much as any bad owner can. They absolutely have to be changed, and with a couple of them, I’m not the only one who thinks that. There are in fact two teams in this part of the list whose fans are making loud, active campaigns to get the names changed.
122: Vancouver Canucks, NHL
As far as the worst names go, Canucks sits feet and ankles many feet under the scrap heap. First of all, Canuck is a slur, over and out, and I’m not sure it’s one of those intellectually-friendly old school slurs like “wop,” or “paddy” either. It was controversial when the Vancouver Canucks first emerged in 1970 and had enough power a couple of years later to cost an election to a presidential candidate who was caught using it. Although that’s well out of my own lifetime, it’s still disturbingly recent, and more than enough to highlight the idea that using slurs as affectionate nicknames might not be the smartest way to name professional sports franchises. Even removing that, Canucks isn’t exactly regional. There’s an entire country full of them outside the province of British Columbia. You would figure if a team was trying to rally a national fanbase, it would avoid the slur and just call itself the Vancouver Canadians, but, eh, gee, a certain other team in Montreal kind of beat them to that punch. So that makes a name which was not only naming itself after the country’s nationals, but blatantly ripping off another team that had already done it some 62 years earlier. At least the team managed to avoid trying to characterize their mascot – more than can be said about the minor league Vancouver Canucks who preceded the NHL team – preferring instead to place a large C (another allusion to the Montreal Canadiens) with an orca leaping out of the top half on their sweaters. Ironic, given that Vancouver Orcas would have been much better than this dreck name.
121: Washington Redskins, NFL
I’m not the first person you should visit about PC fanaticism. I generally have no problems with teams named after races for the most part, because a lot of those names are created from blunt fact: Indians are Indians, Celtics are Celtics, tribesmen are tribesmen. (This does not, however, mean I’m especially fond of them, as you’ll soon learn.) Redskin, however, has the same problem as the above: It’s a slur. Trying to sell the name as a term of respect for bravery and honor is like trying to sell a team called – and I’m writing this outright so you can see for yourself just how bad it is – the New York Niggers based on the culture of the strong, artful people who did hard labor and created blues music. It’s not going to wash. Of all the names on this list, Redskins is the one with the most active fight to get it changed. A not insignificant number of Congressmen wrote owner Daniel Snyder a letter, and the US Patent Office cancelled its patent on the name. The change of name seems inevitable, and no amount of blustering Snyder and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell do is going to save it.
120: Toronto Raptors, NBA
The other team on this list with a major movement to get rid of the name, the Raptors are the first example of egregious 90’s hubris you’re going to see on this list. When the Raps first came about in the early 90’s, everyone still had dinos on the brain thanks to Steven Spielberg and his blockbuster smash, Jurassic Park. The team made that ultimate mistake of naming: They let the fans vote on it. So here, over 20 years down the line, a handful of playoff appearances, and two Hall of Fame superstars later, we’re stuck with a name that has no originality or respect for the region, its history, or its people. Instead, we get a name not only trapped in the 90’s, but trapped within a particular part of the 90’s. You would never know that Toronto was once one of the founding cities of the Basketball Association of America, the direct precursor to the NBA, or that Toronto’s team back then – which lasted a year – had a great name: The Toronto Huskies. You’ll soon be seeing how much I hate 90’s hubris.
119: Chicago Cubs, MLB
This name doesn’t exactly smack of redeeming value: Power, audial beauty, regionalism, and heft are all concepts the name of Chicago’s National League baseball team is bereft of. I’ll give it its due by saying the team did manage to create a unique brand around it, but Cubs is a case in which the branding works as a negative. Maybe the Cubs brand held a lot more weight before 1945, when the Cubs were a dynamo that visited the World Series often and regularly rolled through the National League. Since then, though, the Cubs performed a presto chango and, since they can’t seem to win even for winning these days, they rely on playing up the image of the cute bear cub. The technique created a legion of national fans, but it also branded them with an array of yechy nicknames: Cubbies. Lovable Losers. Even the stadium is nicknamed The Friendly Confines. Now, there are very emotional Cubs fans out there who have unshakeable connections to the team, but the more common image of the Cubs fan is that of the overprivileged postcollegiate white guy who got a six-figure job at daddy’s ad firm, who knows absolutely nothing about baseball, going to Wrigley Field to drink and do anything but watch the game. If your team name is capable of creating this image, you’ve royally fucked up.
118: Oakland Athletics, MLB
What’s worse than a team named for an amorphous concept? A team named for an amorphous concept which is embodied and shared by literally every athlete who ever lived, let alone suit up in a professional uniform. Maybe what they were going for was more along the lines of “Oakland Athletes,” but that wouldn’t have improved things substantially. In fact, it would subdue a halfway decent balance to the name, because it would rob it of the K sound rounding out the first and last syllables. Granted, this is an early MLB name that journeyed to the west, accompanying the team through three cities and surviving a very real name change to just the Oakland A’s, which is even worse. This is a very serious originality failure, perhaps all the more so because it’s intertwined with a branding which would have to improve to even be called a failure. How many amateur teams, clubs, gyms, have marketed themselves “(Name here) Athletics?” It makes you wonder if the Patent Office is even half-awake.
117: Cincinnati Reds, MLB
Here’s another old school MLB name. In fact, the Cincinnati Reds were the first MLB team. That doesn’t mean their name works. It’s not a noun, or an adjective, or even a verb. It just exists as itself, becoming a sort of mercenary amorphous concept to anything it feels right to deploy it on. While Cincinnati Reds has a pleasant ring to it, that can be traced mostly to the rolling, hard R that stands out. There is admittedly an intensity associated with the color, but that’s not always a good thing. Look at the Washington Redskins up there, and hell, look at the Cincinnati Reds themselves, who wound up changing their name to the Cincinnati Redlegs for a period in the 20th century because too many people were using it as a label against their political opponents at a rate which would shame Fox News. Those are huge knocks on originality and branding, and without the regionalism to anchor it, it’s a lost, meaningless team name.
116: Green Bay Packers, NFL
The most likable and only true populist football team in the United States gets everything right except the name. (Your mileage on their colors may vary as well.) First of all, it’s probably the supreme irony of sports history in all four leagues: A team in which literally anyone can buy stock shares (there are, again literally, more stockholders who own the Packers than there are people living in Green Bay) is named for the private packing corporation it was named after. I’m no hipster, so I don’t do irony when it goes this far. The name strikes a decent balance, with hard R through both the first and last syllables and both place and nickname having two syllables, so the name sounds shorter than it looks. There’s something ruining about the term “Packer,” though, because of the variation of meanings associated with “pack.” None of those meanings have anything to do with football. While the name was once a perfectly good term to apply to a blue collar factory man to describe his job, today “packing” has the decidedly more negative connotation to people who lack any intellectual curiosities, who sit and gorge on all the Wisconsin milk and cheese within reach while watching the Green Bay Packers every Sunday.