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Every Team Ever

Every Team Ever

So a few years ago, on a review website called Lunch.com, I started a little reviewing project. The goal was to write about every professional major league sports team in the United States and Canada. It took awhile, but I pulled it off, and it was read and liked by thousands of people.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t very long before the moderators on Lunch stopped doing their jobs. Going to Lunch now reveals a message that says they’ll have thing up and running again before you can say “Who doesn’t love Lunch?” Well, apparently saying those four words is a process which is now pushing two years.

All that hard work I did is now gone, but earlier this year, I came up with another good idea: I would do the same project all over again, but this time, I would do it as a wordpress blog so it wouldn’t be exposed to the shortcomings of lazy moderators.

So far, I’ve got about 15 teams down. This is going to take a little bit of time, so you’ll just have to check back in regularly and know that I’m going to get to your own favorite team eventually.

Here’s the link:

https://everyteamever.wordpress.com

Proper NBA Loyalties for Fans in Buffalo

Proper NBA Loyalties for Fans in Buffalo

 

Okay Buffalo, it’s time we had that famous chat. You know the one: The talk about the Hawks and the Hornets. I know many of you follow the NBA, and an uncharacteristically good piece by Bucky Gleason in The Buffalo News recently might be causing new feelings to well up in a few of those who don’t. You’re going to begin noticing new teams, and it’s important that if you start to follow basketball, the team or teams you choose to support are the right ones, not simply the most convenient ones. And sadly, Buffalo, I see a lot of you shacking up with the convenient team – the Celtics. Sure, they look good and have a come-hither history and appeal. But you already KNOW they’re not the right team. I know they’re sexy: The spectacular fundamentals of Larry Bird; Bill Russell leading his team to 11 titles, including eight straight; 17 titles; the arguable greatest basketball coach ever, Red Auerbach. We need to get one thing straight, though: They’re from Boston, and you’re Buffalo. You’re the one city on Earth that, instead of trying to attract new residents by trying to convince them you’re as good as New York City, tries to attract new residents by presenting yourself as the polar opposite of New York City. And yet, you don’t have enough sports pride to stay away from those sports whores in Boston? The home of the team that you hate more than any other, the New England Patriots? And the Boston Bruins, who you also hate? And the Boston Red Sox, hated by Buffalonians with Yankees allegiances, which is probably around 65 percent of you?

Buffalo, you have a deeper and more complex history with hoops than most people realize. Two different NBA teams – the Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Clippers – kicked off their lives right in your backyard. And when you pick teams, your go-to-the-best approach makes every victory hollow and meaningless. You need to pick a team that exemplifies your ethos, or that you have a real connection to. I cheer for a grab bag of different teams, all for different reasons: The Philadelphia 76ers drafted a player, Damone Brown, who went to my high school; I lived in Chicago and have a remaining loyalty to the Chicago Bulls; New York Knicks games were an escape for me when I moved back to Buffalo, so I’m connected to them too; I admire the ethos and adaptability the San Antonio Spurs have constantly shown in becoming maybe the best team in the NBA; I started watching the Golden State Warriors after their upset of the Dallas Mavericks in 2007; and I just have a soft spot for the Portland Trail Blazers. None of those teams are the Boston Celtics, and do you know why? It’s because I have a respectful loyalty to my sports heritage. So without further ado, here are some alternative teams that people from Buffalo should consider adopting:

Brooklyn Nets
Let’s be honest: The Nets were a much more appealing choice back in 2012, in the buildup hype to the grand switch the New Jersey Nets made to the Brooklyn Nets. The Brooklyn name was seen as trade leverage and a strong free agent lure, the Nets had just made big trades for Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, and Carmelo Anthony was firing up the rumor mill. That doesn’t change a few things, though: One is that my Damone Brown ended up playing for the Nets at one point, so there’s a connection with a Buffalo native. More importantly, though, is the fact that the Nets can easily be imagined playing and representing anywhere in New York. Their look and style could play as well in Rochester or Binghamton as it does in Brooklyn, and their arena has that same kind of look: You could see it slapped in the middle of downtown Buffalo if the Sabres didn’t exist for them to share an arena with. As Buffalo tries to make itself stand out from the shadow of New York City, so do the Nets still fight with chips on their shoulders for attention from the older, more established, and more regal New York Knickerbockers. Buffalo, you ARE the Brooklyn Nets.

Cleveland Cavaliers
Okay, maybe the idea of adopting a team from New York City is a little off-putting. I don’t blame you. So if it’s a Buffalo-like place you’re looking for, I don’t think any two cities in this country hold a closer resemblance to each other than Buffalo and Cleveland. Hell, the two of you share a lot of the same vein of sports pain. Plus Cleveland is just a three-hour drive down the road, so who not do the sensible thing and call the Cavaliers your team? They have LeBron James, who is currently the best player in the NBA, so there’s that. After years of hard luck, they also appeared in the Finals twice in the last ten years, both times losing series which were effectively unwinnable. And their hard luck is another part of who they are – since bad luck affects Buffalo’s sports teams to the extent that Buffalo and Cleveland compete with each other over which one has worse sports luck, you can’t sit in Buffalo and pretend you’re going to just adopt a team because it’s the best if the teams you have skip town. No, if the Bills pick up and go, I know a great many of you will find solace in the Cleveland Browns, just because to god there is no zero. Also, the Cavaliers were created in 1970, the same year as both the Sabres and the old Braves.

Portland Trail Blazers
Not looking for a place with such strong Rust Belt connections? Well, the NBA has another good team for you! The Portland Trail Blazers entered the NBA in 1970, the same year as the Cavaliers and Braves – and, as mentioned, the same year the Sabres came into the NHL. If you want underdogs, the Blazers are a great team to support, with Portland sitting in the shadows of Seattle and Vancouver and people frequently forgetting the Trail Blazers exist. However, that doesn’t stop the locals from vociferously supporting the team and following the NBA in the hope of a second title. Okay, there are better sales pitches, but if a Buffalo connection would be one of them, there’s always Dr. Jack. Jack Ramsay coached the Braves through their best years before taking the reins of the Blazers and leading them to their first – and to date, still their only – title, a massive upset over the Philadelphia 76ers in 1977.

Philadelphia 76ers
In relative terms, the last three teams are a little on the young side, and maybe you’re interested in a team with a bit more of a pedigree. Pedigrees don’t come much stronger than with the Sixers. This is the team that invented modern basketball by thinking up the shot clock. It’s the team of Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Charles Barkley, and Allen Iverson. Aside from being the team that drafted Brown, the Sixers have another serious upstate New York connection: When they entered the world, they did so as the Syracuse Nationals, and were moved to Philadelphia after it became clear that Syracuse wouldn’t be able to sustain a professional major league franchise.

Detroit Pistons
Here’s your Buffalo connection: Bob Lanier. He’s a local legend with Bennett High School. Afterward, he became a legend at St. Bonaventure, where he led the Bonnies to the Final Four. While the Pistons have had an up-and-down life in the NBA, their up years tend to resemble the best years of the Bills – people stand up, look, and listen to the noise because they’re crazy good. When they’re not winning, they only get backhanded mentions on ESPN, are lucky to be featured in a national broadcast every three years, and are generally only spotted after a galactic screwup. If there’s another Bills allusion you want, the Pistons wear the same colors as the Bills – red and blue. But perhaps their biggest selling point is that they represent another downtrodden Rust Belt city; Detroit holds many of the same values as Buffalo and has the same sense of civic pride, both in what it once was and what it’s rebuilding itself to be again. The Pistons also have a history – they began in Fort Wayne, Indiana as the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons and predate the NBA. Their first two titles were won in 1944 and 1945 in the NBL, before the creation of the NBA; or the creation of the BAA, the league the NBL eventually merged with to create the NBA. There are also three NBA titles, all won with the same ethos of good fundamentals, smothering defense, and placing the good of the team ahead of the individual. On the downside, you may have reservations about cheering for the team of the infamous Bad Boys…

San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are the odd man out on this list; hell, I spent years hating (but admiring) them before being forced into an about-face during their duels against the Wade/James/Bosh Miami Heat. Their appeal to Buffalo is that they have long exemplified the teamwork ethos of the Pistons to much greater effect (they beat the Pistons for the 2005 NBA Championship) and, since Buffalo is not a place where people enjoy showboating braggadicio, their quiet, respectful, and professional manner is something to be emulated. Think of them as the Bad Boy Pistons with more stars and less bullying. When was the last time you saw a Spurs player make the news for blowing his top or committing a crime? That’s right. So good, and still low-key enough to be one of the most likable teams in the NBA. Even their fans don’t run around flinging shit. The downside is that that’s a pretty weak connection. The Spurs have no Buffalo connections. None. San Antonio is nothing close to Buffalo, and it shares its state with Dallas. Furthermore, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is the NBA’s equivalent to Bill Belichick – he’s a tactical mad genius who adjusts, adapts, and uncovers strengths and weaknesses with almost supernatural savvy. (Albeit, he’s Bill Belichick without the arrogance, or the drive against the league which frequently causes him to run up scores, or the cheating, or the lack of sportsmanship, but still.) The have one of the greatest players as their lynchpin with Tim Duncan. They routinely destroy every other team in the NBA, and are forever the league’s preeminent threat because all the guys who are supposed to get old just won’t fucking get old! Could they be… The New England Patriots? (A much nicer version of them, at any rate?)

Golden State Warriors
Cliff Robinson, who played in the NBA for 18 years, played for the Golden State Warriors from 2003 to 2005. He was born and raised in Buffalo and played his high school hoops at Riverside. Also, just before Steve Kerr started coaching the team, the Warriors were known as a lightning-fast, run-and-gun offensive team, much like the old Braves. It’s a pretty common thing nowadays to see sportswriters who saw both to compare the two of them. If you want a shout-out to a hockey team, the Warriors wear blue and gold as their colors and are the only team in the NBA to wear their jerseys like hockey jerseys, with the team logo prominently featured on the front.

New York Knickerbockers
Proximity is the name of the game here. Media proximity, at the very least; the Pistons, Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, and maybe the Sixers are all closer by distance than the Knicks. But it’s the Knicks that get their games aired on MSG, the same network that shows Sabres games, and that makes them the easiest team to follow in Buffalo. In fairness, YES broadcasts Nets games, but that’s primarily a Yankees network, so you can figure out which team is getting the emphasis should there be a scheduling conflict. And MSG wants watchers to be familiar with the history of the Knicks – they always show old tapes of the classic dynasty of the 70’s (you DO old, Buffalo, your commitment to old keeps setting you back 20 years) as well as the best highlights of the Ewing era. And the way the team is being run these days will remind you of the way the Bills were run in the Tom Donahoe years and their aftermath.

Los Angeles Lakers
Are all those titles really THAT important to you? Fine. Here’s the Los fucking Angeles goddamned Lakers. Now go take a front-run on the Skyway.

 

The Ultimate Playoff: The NHL Playoffs vs. the NBA Playoffs

The Ultimate Playoff: The NHL Playoffs vs. the NBA Playoffs

When I first moved to Chicago, I knew instantly that I was going to become a Blackhawks and Bulls fan. They played my favorite sports, and I wanted to fit in with the community, so my adoption of my new teams complimented my longtime fandom of the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia 76ers perfectly. In hockey, everything came easy for me. For basketball… Well, when I took off for Chicago, I had been a Sixers fan only since 2002, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay one. The player I wanted to support wasn’t with them anymore, and he may have been out of the NBA completely by then. So, sick of explaining my loyalty to the Sixers, I started trying on new teams, seeing how they fit. Although I did eventually find my way back to the Sixers, in 2007 an unexpected run to the playoffs by a virtually unseen team called the Golden State Warriors caught my attention. They traded several of their lynchpins, won only a couple more games than they lost, squeezed into the eighth playoff spot on a technicality… And totally upended the Dallas Mavericks – the best team in the league – in the first round. While that upset wasn’t the shocker everyone acts like it was – the Warriors were actually undefeated against the Mavericks in the regular season – I still thought it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. The Warriors were immediately placed onto my watch list, and I’ve been cheering for them ever since. Something about the Golden State Warriors just felt right.

This last season in both leagues, there was an odd synchronicity between four of the five teams I like. The Sabres found a place in history by literally being a worse hockey team than any since the 1930’s, while the Sixers – who hold the distinction of fielding the worst team in NBA history for a season in the 1970’s – were just as awful, and probably would have been the worst team in the NBA this year had the New York Knicks not started making an effort to tank during the middle of the season. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks and Warriors were both favorites to win their leagues. The Warriors, in fact, were historically good; they played on the level of the 1983 Sixers, 1996 Bulls, or 1986 Boston Celtics. The Blackhawks had an unusual season. For a month, they couldn’t find the net; their star player was badly injured around the halfway point; and they limped into the playoffs on a losing streak. Both teams, though, pulled through and won their titles, and I followed my teams the whole way through, screaming like a lunatic. I also started asking myself, with the season similarities between the NHL and NBA, which league did its playoffs better. So let’s do this! The NHL Playoffs vs. the NBA Playoffs. One day, I’ll learn.

Big Prize
The NBA has the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy. It has a 24-karat gold overlay, but is made of 14.5 pounds of sterling silver and vermeil. It’s two feet tall and designed to be a very basic cup with a quixotic little detail: There’s a sphere attached to the rim of the cup, so the Larry O’Brien Trophy looks like a basketball falling into a net. The team that wins it gets its name engraved onto the side along with the year, and the team gets to keep the trophy until it rots. The trophy has also undergone something of an identity crisis: The original NBA Championship Trophy was a more traditional cup design which was named after Walter A. Brown – the original owner of the Boston Celtics and a man who was instrumental in merging the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and National Basketball League (NBL) to form the National Basketball Association (NBA) – starting in 1964. The original design was junked in 1977, but Brown’s name was attached to it until 1984, when it was renamed. The NHL offers its Champions the Stanley Cup, which was originally bought by Lord Stanley of Preston in 1892 and named the Dominion Challenge Hockey Cup. Like the Larry O’Brien Trophy, it evolved slowly into the form everyone knows and loves today. Starting as a glorified punch bowl that was seven inches tall and 11 inches wide, that first punch bowl design is now what caps off an iconic trophy which is 35 inches tall and 34 pounds. There’s no copy of it made for the winners every year, either – the names of the players for the winning team are engraved on the side, and the team keeps it for a year, or however long it takes for them to lose it. The Stanley Cup even acknowledges the lockout of the 2004-2005 season, by simply stating “season not played.”
Winner

The NHL and the Stanley Cup! The Larry O’Brien Trophy is a nice thing to win, and the quirky design certainly stands out. Design, however, will only win so many points against a trophy with an entire mythology surrounding it that Zeus would be proud of. The Larry O’Brien Trophy is handed to a handful of players on the team, then given to the owner, at least during the public presentation. The Stanley Cup is handed to every member of the team to skate around with for a minute, then everyone pauses and surrounds it for a team picture. During the locker room celebration, players drink beer out of it! Every player then gets to spend a day with the Cup. As you can imagine, this has resulted in some anecdotes which add to the Cup’s mythos. The Stanley Cup has made its way into a swimming pool; one player from the Chicago Blackhawks was pushed around The Loop in a wheelbarrow with it; and people have found uses for the Cup including a baptismal font, flower pot, dog food dish, and paper incinerator. It has marched in the Gay Pride Parade. Even the misspelled engraving on the Cup are legends. The most telling aspect of the trophy contest, however, is the fact that the NBA is adopting publicity techniques used by the NHL and the Stanley Cup in order to gain more popular recognition for the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy.

Star Power
Every sports league has a shortlist of galactic superstars, and every team has a face. The NBA has nationally known names like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin, and Carmelo Anthony headlining it. The NHL has familiar players like Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Quick, and John Tavares in its ranks. The NHL, though, sees games as team efforts, and so, of a 60-minute game, your favorite players will average somewhere between 20-24 minutes on the ice in a single game, all sparsed out in shifts of a couple of minutes. This means unknown players will get chances to play hero, and some unknown but prominent players will have a chance to shine. How could anyone forget the manic, possessed performance of Anaheim Ducks (still known then as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim) goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere during the 2003 playoffs? Or Cam Ward outdueling Ryan Miller during the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals? Okay, they’re cheating a little, because they’re goalies, but there are plenty of other instances: The May Day goal, a series-winner scored by Sabres enforcer Brad May in 1993; Chicago’s Bryan Bickell emerging as a playoff monster in 2013, putting 17 points on the board during the playoffs, including the equalizer in game six with 76 seconds to go in regulation; and Daniel Briere – an All-Star during his time in Buffalo, but otherwise a write-off expense everywhere else – leading all playoff scoring with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010. NBA games are shorter – they run for 48 minutes, divided into four 12-minute quarters. The average starter on an NBA team can easily be on the court for around a half hour, while the team’s superstars can be out for 40 minutes. While a lot of sportswriters like to huff on breathlessly about how stars in the NBA keep stepping up in the playoffs, you don’t see very many of them mentioning the fact that NBA coaches run their teams in a way that allows their stars to accumulate thousands of points per game. That makes the NBA more of an individualistic showcase for its best players, who are expected to stay on the hardwood doing everything in two directions. Game plans and gambling lines are drawn up with an NBA team’s stars in mind, and more often than not, the stars deliver, and most of them turn in laudable efforts even when their teams lose. When we attack NBA stars for choking, that comes with context – most of them actually do just fine, and we’re tearing them down for a singular aspect of their games that just happened to be off at a bad time.
Winner
The NBA. Basketball is a high-scoring sport in which players can put points on the board in bunches. While I do give hockey’s team mentality all the credit in the world, the short shifts, short overall playtime, and low scoring mean stars can disappear in the playoffs more easily than we care to acknowledge. You can see the difference in the way the playoffs are advertised: The NHL tends to emphasize the cities, while the NBA can get away with placing more emphasis on individual players. You don’t see “Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks take on Steve Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning;” it’s just the Blackhawks against the Lightning. You do see a lot of that in the NBA. Everyone knows LeBron James is the best player on the planet, and that HIS Finals opponent, Stephen Curry, was voted the league MVP. Their respective teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, were only mentioned by sportswriters when they wrote first about how the Warriors had better players and would inevitably crush the Cavaliers in four games, then later about how the Cavaliers were overcoming their lack of talent to turn it into a series. In the light of NBA history, this is even more prominent: Everyone knows about the rivalry between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, but who besides NBA fans can name their teams? Later, it became Magic Johnson and Larry Bird rescuing the league from oblivion and turning it into a juggernaut. To a casual fan, this is an important distinction. After all, a casual fan looking to see what the hype is about can easily miss great plays by star hockey players; if they’re looking to see what the NBA is about, a star can put on a hell of a show every night.

Game Flow
The flow of a game is important. It can make or break the memorability and entertainment value of a playoff game. Both basketball and hockey are known as very fast sports, but both the NHL and NBA have had major issues with teams exploiting dumb rules to create championship defenses: The NBA has the San Antonio Spurs, and the NHL has the New Jersey Devils. Both of them exploited loopholes and created slow, boring versions of their sports which required the leagues to take action. Other than them, both sports have rules that stop play for ridiculous reasons. The NBA seems more prone to them, because it has so many more, but the NHL’s play stoppages take more time to sort out. In the NBA, the ball is merely handed to a player on the other team for a quick inbounds pass, while NHL stoppages require an entire face-off. The NBA also has shorter between-period intermissions and a single real halftime, compared to two halftimes in hockey games. Both sports also have very different ways of settling close games in the final minutes – the NHL has the empty net, in which the goalie is removed in favor of an extra attacker, while the NBA starts using intentional fouls.
Winner
The NHL. Even hardcore NBA fans will admit basketball is a sport in which close games are only entertaining if one team starts to pull away during the final few minutes. Otherwise, everything becomes a pattern of free throws, intentional fouling, strategic inbounding, and timeouts; it’s not unusual for a close NBA playoff game to take 15 minutes to play the final minute. In the meantime, there’s hockey, taking the goalie out of the net, and then speeding up as the team that’s down and which removed their goalie fights frantically to score the goal that forces overtime. If you’re a fan of one of the teams in a hockey playoff game, I’ll grant that last minute can feel like an eternity. But the NHL wins here because in the NBA, that final minute can be a true eternity, not to mention a joyless bore to watch.

Storylines
A casual fan can get caught up in a good storyline revolving around the playoffs, and so the narratives tend to get pushed by the leagues. Good storylines are why the baseball playoffs still have pull, even though the sport has now sucked beyond belief for three years and the measures being taken to speed it up are fairly half-assed (although, to MLB’s credit, they do seem to be working). Sometimes the stories are rich in history and tradition: In 2008 and 2010, the NBA saw the renewal of its oldest and fiercest rivalry: The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers played against each other in the Finals, with Boston winning the former and Los Angeles taking the latter. In 2010, the NHL got a juicy Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers, two of its oldest teams, neither of which had much to brag about lately; Chicago was fighting against a curse which was about to hit the wrong side of 50, and the generally excellent Flyers had been choking in the Final since their most recent Cup in 1975. Then again, they can go the other way as well: The 2003 Stanley Cup Final was between the Devils and Ducks; or, to put it in terms the fans looked at it in, the team everyone hated for ruining hockey against the team everyone hated because its name evoked a popular Disney movie. The NBA frequently ends up turning to its marquee stars to sell the matchup, but they can get away with it: Magic vs. Bird always meant compelling basketball. When that rivalry petered out, the league turned to asking if Michael Jordan could ever be a winner, and was lucky to be able to add the double whopper when Jordan’s first Finals opponent was Magic. When Jordan left, there was the New York Knicks finally getting past Chicago, but could they win the title everyone wanted and expected them to win? The Finals this year has the best story in eons: LeBron James returns to his original team to make up for his past sins, but can he lead the Cavaliers to their first-ever title in their 45 years of existence? Can the Warriors win the Finals for the first time since 1975? You would think the NHL had a bigger problem in selling stories, since nearly half its teams were created in the 90’s, but not really: 1994 gave us the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks, one team 54 years without a Cup and the other Cup-less since its 1970 creation. 2001 asked if Ray Bourque could finally win that Cup everyone thought he so richly deserved. The expansions have worked surprisingly well for the NHL in terms of playoff storylines because since the Original Six finally began its resurgence in 1993, fans have been able to enjoy a respectable combination of the old powerhouses and their new usurpers, and the unpredictability of the playoffs meant new faces and new possible upsets, forever vaulting newer teams into the Final. In that respect, even the teams we all hate have given fans good stories, whether the teams we hate are old powers looking to return to their thrones (the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs) or new teams trying to carve a niche for themselves and saying they deserve the respect traditionalists all have saved for the old teams (the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, and even the Phoenix Coyotes a couple of years back). The greater possibility of upsets in the NHL also lends a hand, because it ensures a unique Cinderella story every year – the 2003 Western Conference Finals might have been one-sided, but you can’t say the series between the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Minnesota Wild didn’t begin with an interesting premise.
Winner
The NHL. The random aspect of the NHL playoffs allow for the creation of more unexpected stories on the fly. Meanwhile, the old teams and new teams in the NHL ensure that a lot of fans will be watching – they’ll be snagged by the possibility of the new teams going down in flames. The biggest decider, though, is the fact that the NBA still runs on a hierarchy. While the NBA can get away with promoting individual stories over team stories, this hierarchy doesn’t leave it with much of a choice. There are some upsets in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but but generally, the teams in the Finals are going to be the best teams in the league. This season has been an exception, and if the San Antonio Spurs had beaten the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, it wouldn’t have been much of an exception. The NBA seems to like the hierarchy because it makes marketing easier, and it can concentrate on the popular teams instead of odd teams like the Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, or Oklahoma City Thunder. More on this later.

Parity
Every team has to have a decent chance of winning a title once or twice. If they don’t, a sports league becomes a secondary plot to one or two teams which dominate every season, and what fun is that? Why would anyone cheer for a team unless they believed the team had at least an outside shot at a title every now and then? The NHL is good at delivering new teams to the playoffs; it probably helps that it introduced a million different new teams to the league in the 90’s. Given the frequently-close nature of hockey games, unexpected teams have been able to make deep playoff runs. Although the NHL playoffs are known as a gauntlet, they’re usually pretty good at weeding out teams that aren’t good enough to win the Stanley Cup, although there have been a few notable exceptions: The 1938 Blackhawks somehow won the damn thing, despite having a putrid 14-25-9 record, scoring fewer goals than anyone, any allowing more than all but one team – before the Original Six era. The 2006 Edmonton Oilers were also a very pedestrian team, and the 1996 Florida Panthers – who were in just their third year of existence – made it to the Final with bits and pieces still fresh from being cobbled together from the expansion draft. In hockey, a lot is reliant on lucky bounces and good goaltending – the late 90’s-era Buffalo Sabres were notorious for making deep playoff runs because they had the greatest goalie in the world and no one else. (Okay, Miroslav Satan if we’re being nice.) In basketball, things are much different – the teams with the best athletes usually turn out to be the best teams, and so any and all teams that managed to squeak into the playoffs by a hair will be out before the Finals. Yes, we sometimes see great players carrying teams on deep runs, but teams without some sort of superstar power generally don’t stand a chance in hell. The Detroit Pistons’ 2004 Championship was a shocker at the time, but they were helmed by a superstar coach, Larry Brown. The 2007 Golden State Warriors hadn’t lost a game against the Dallas Mavericks all during the regular season, so their famous upset wasn’t as incredible as everyone thinks. (It was still pretty cool, though, so much that I started following the Warriors afterward.) The seeding and regular season records usually make things predictable in the NBA playoffs. There’s a lot of writing about NBA teams that had no business being in the Finals, but there have only been four Finals teams below a third seed: The 1978 Seattle Supersonics; the 1981 Houston Rockets (who had a losing record); the 1995 Houston Rockets (who managed to win the whole damn thing); the 1999 New York Knicks (in a lockout-shortened year during which every team fell out of shape); and the 2006 Dallas Mavericks.
Winner
The NHL. Much as I respect great athleticism, I want my team to have a reasonable shot in the playoffs, even if they do rely on their goalie getting hot at the right time. The random puck physics and streakiness of hockey teams have prevented the rise of a true hierarchy in the NHL. Meanwhile, the question in the NBA is usually more “how” and less “who.” The result is that, with the exception of the 70’s – when eight different teams won Championships – the NBA can be easily divided up into eras, with only sporadic aberrations like the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers or 2011 Mavericks. Even the Pistons and Rockets won their Championships in two-year spurts during eras where they were great but others were simply better. Since my birth in 1981, we’ve had the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics dominate the 80’s; the Chicago Bulls owned the 90’s; the Millennium was all about the San Antonio Spurs and the Lakers again; and this decade is shaping up to be more random, but we still had the Miami Heat in the Finals for four straight years, as well as a Western Conference so dominant that there are constant calls for realignment. I’ll grant that the NHL was the same way for a long time, but that hasn’t been the case in awhile. The Original Six era was one of NCAA-level corruption, and we can safely assume that when the NHL finally gave in to expansion, it was done by the original owners in the hopes that the other teams would just be carpets for the Original Six. Then the Philadelphia Flyers won the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975 – beating the Buffalo Sabres in 1975, who came from the 1969 expansion – and the Original Six probably shrugged those off as bones thrown to fans. They didn’t realize their years were over until the New York Islanders and Oilers won everything in sight during the 80’s, and since then the Original Six have been occasional winners against random teams from the Expansion Eras. And every member of the Original Six that won went through an extensive drought.

Show of Athleticism
The NBA and NHL both give us fluid and spectacular athleticism, although they are also both prone to bad stereotypes; basketball is frequently viewed as a long slog played by lazy players which any tall person can dominate, while hockey is seen as a glorified boxing match played on ice. Hockey, though, has the ability to turn its players into human battering rams. To play hockey at the highest level, a player has to have a certain awareness of where his body is going and what it’s capable of. Hockey players aren’t just fighting against other hockey players – they’re also competing with the surface. While performing a group of difficult-to-learn athletic skills, the hockey player has to also be playing a whole other sport, and the skills to stop, change direction without slowing down too much, and control a small rubber disc which is ruled by its own laws of physics. Basketball offers more what-you-see-is-what-you-get athleticism. Basketball players punch the laws of physics in the face. There’s no extra insider understanding of human movement, physics, kinesiology, or the sport necessary for people to understand what they’re seeing. When Chris Paul throws a perfectly-timed layup pass to Blake Griffin while Griffin is two and a half feet off the ground, which Griffin slams into the net, everyone who sees it understands they’ve just seen something superhuman.
Winner
The NBA. The athleticism and skill you can see in the NHL is a lot more subtle, and it tends to be lost on casual viewers if it’s a dump and chase game; or if a team is using the Neutral Zone Trap; or when four guys are trying to dig the puck out of the corner. Meanwhile, if a sports fan from Europe visited the United States and asked what our sports offer to match the spectacular athletes we see in European Soccer, the NBA is what you would show them.

The NBA has its merits, but there’s nothing like a white-knuckle playoff hockey game which goes into multiple overtimes. Unless you’re a fan of one of the teams playing. Then it’s just torturous.

Buffaball: The Unknown History of Basketball in Buffalo

Buffaball: The Unknown History of Basketball in Buffalo

March Madness is set to begin this week, and Buffalo’s usual college basketball rooting interest – Syracuse – is out on a self-imposed ban. To make up for the loss, though, the UB Bulls picked up the slack. Accumulating a sparkling 23-9 record, the Bulls won their conference, picked up their first-ever NCAA tournament bid, and are now 12-seeded in the Midwest bracket with most onlookers pegging them a potential Cinderella team. People are starting to awaken to and embrace UB Athletics, and having gone to that school myself, I couldn’t be more thrilled. Let’s all cross our fingers and hope the March Madness brackets fall into chaos and fire!

Buffalo, however, doesn’t embrace basketball the way it does football, hockey, or even baseball. The sport has a flashy image here, perhaps because so many of the sport’s face teams – both college and professional – like to depend on players who are runners and gunners. Flash doesn’t reek of brutal, unrelenting physicality, and since Buffalo is a very ruffian city, flash and dash mojo isn’t something we’re able to relate to. But for those willing to look beyond the sport’s advertised razzle dazzle, there is a rough and tumble sport in which all the sports positives we want to pass on to the younger generation remain true: Defense wins championships. A great player can be overcome by good, old-fashioned teamwork. Work hard, practice, cooperate with others, and never give up or let up, and you can succeed. Basketball is also a sport anyone can play – the only real necessity is the ball. Really, it’s surprising more people in Buffalo don’t take to the hoops, and that’s just a shame because Buffalo has contributed so much to the sport. Here is the hidden history of basketball in Buffalo and how it made some powerful contributions to the sport we’ve come to know and love.

Yes, yes, the Braves. It wasn’t an especially long time ago that Buffalo was home to the Buffalo Braves, a fast break team similar to the Golden State Warriors teams of the last few years. The Braves are still around these days, plying their trade as the Los Angeles Clippers, and with the Clippers having been the poster children of terrible basketball until a few years ago, the Braves shadow still hangs over them; until Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, the Braves years were the only consistently good years in the team’s history, and even they weren’t out of control, video game records. Focusing only on the fact that the Braves are now the Clippers, though, ignores a bunch of more individual contributions from the team that are written on the NBA’s hardwood.

There’s no conversation about the Braves that can be a proper conversation without Bob McAdoo. The second overall pick of the 1972 NBA Draft, McAdoo is still the name most people who are knowledgeable on all things NBA associate with the Buffalo Braves. For the first five years of his career, McAdoo was a Brave and a possible all-time great. In the 1974 season, McAdoo became the most recent NBA player to average 30 points and 15 rebounds per game, and led the league in field goal shooting percentage. The following season, he was given the league MVP Award. Now, I don’t know if the people reading this are NBA fans, but if not, here’s something you have to know about the NBA’s MVP Award: They don’t give it to schlubs. The NBA gives us arguably the greatest displays of athleticism on the planet, and its MVP Award means more than it does in any other league. Consider that in baseball, the MVP is most often a guy who hits a ball three times out of ten, is on and off the field the other seven times, and therefore isn’t getting a ton of time on the field, and that’s not even covering the fact that there’s a controversy about how often pitchers are given the award. In football, there are no two-way players – you’re either on offense or on defense, and there seems to be a serious bias against defensive players in the MVP voting there as well. Hockey players frequently do play two ways, but 20 minutes a game is a lot. NBA stars are expected to play around 35 minutes of a 48-minute game in both directions. In any case, McAdoo was also a three-time scoring champion, five-time All-Star, and Rookie of the Year. While his NBA career ran for another ten years after the Braves cut him loose – and he reeled in a pair of rings on the bench for the Showtime Lakers – all of his great individual achievements happened during his first five years in Buffalo.

The Braves also helped usher in the era of coaching legend Jack Ramsay. Ramsay was by far the best best the Braves had in their eight-year existence. After leaving the Braves, Ramsay established his reputation as a coaching genius in 1977, his first year as the coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, by leading them to their first – and so far, only – NBA Championship. Ramsay coached the Trail Blazers until 1986, then took over head coaching duties for the Indiana Pacers until 1988, when he retired for good. Although no one would throw Ramsay’s coach cred against Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, Gregg Popovich, or Pat Riley, he is still mentioned alongside others like Chuck Daly, Red Holzman, and Lenny Wilkens as one of the all-time great NBA coaches.

The accolades don’t stop there. The Braves actually produced a small handful of people in the Basketball Hall of Fame: Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Adrian Dantley, Dolph Schayes, and for all of two games, Moses Malone. McAdoo, Dantley, and Ernie DiGregorio were all Rookies of the Year with the Braves, and perpetual fan favorite Randy Smith was once the MVP of the All-Star Game.

Did you know, though, that the Braves were only the second professional basketball team in the city’s history? In 1946, the NBL created a team called the Buffalo Bisons. The Bisons, however, were apparently not sustainable, and the team got up and walked out after the first 13 games of its existence. Although they left Buffalo, that doesn’t mean they were dissolved, even though it was professional basketball’s wild, anything-goes era. The Bisons merely hightailed it to Moline, Illinois, a city in what was called the Tri-Cities area (it’s now called the Quad Cities area), and became the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. That lasted longer, until 1951, when the Blackhawks decided they needed to move to a bigger city and change their name a little, becoming the Milwaukee Hawks. In 1955, the team moved to St. Louis, and for the next 13 years, the St. Louis Hawks matured, came of age, won their only Championship, and were one of the marquee teams in the NBA. The good times didn’t last, though, but the Buffalo Bisons are still around, and in fact, they’re the best team in the Eastern Conference as I write this. You know them as today’s Atlanta Hawks.

Those teams don’t cover all the players who were born in Buffalo. The most notable Buffalo natives in the NBA are probably Bob Lanier, the Detroit Pistons great who owned a 20.87 PPG career average, and Cliff Robinson. Buffalo native Greg Oden was a first overall draft pick in 2007 who didn’t pan out. Christian Laettner, arguably the greatest college basketball player of all time, also came from the area, which is actually a little bit regretful because it makes it more difficult to properly hate Duke. I guess when that’s considered, it’s only appropriate that one of Laettner’s teammates, Bobby Hurley, is the current coach of the Bulls.

If you want to bring the whole of upstate New York into it, then get this: Today’s Sacramento Kings are the oldest team in the NBA, having started out as a factory team in the 1920’s called the Rochester Seagrams in Rochester, while the Philadelphia 76ers began as the Syracuse Nationals. There’s also the little matter of that basketball-oriented university team in ‘Cuse that produced Carmelo Anthony, Michael Carter-Williams, Derrick Coleman, and several others who averaged double-digit PPG.

Could you imagine the Buffalo All-Star team? Jack Ramsay as coach, and featuring Lanier, McAdoo, Robinson, and all the others. I can surmise that if we were to put the Buffalo All-Stars against the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers, 1986 Boston Celtics, 1996 Chicago Bulls, or any of those other all-time great squads, we would see… Well, uh, we’d see the Buffalo team get kicked to the curb in an epically one-sided stomping. (If we want to bring the rest of upstate New York into it, though, including players for the relocated teams, it would be a whole other story; any legend team brought to the hardwoord would find itself also dealing with Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Webber, Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Dominique Wilkins, and Allen Iverson as well.) In any case, though, anyone with respect for the sports history in Buffalo would do well to give basketball a chance.

The Rooters’ Rules: A Guide to Sports Loyalty

The Rooters’ Rules: A Guide to Sports Loyalty

Well, it’s that time of year again. Five months and 20 football games ago, the NFL set sail for its 2014 season. Now it’s playoff time, and the field of 32 has been narrowed down to 12 – actually, it’s eight now that Wild Card Weekend is over – and the biggest league in the United States will soon be crowning its national champion. You might be familiar with a particular NFL commercial which has been airing all season in which a typical midwestern woman explains how her family of Vikings fans gradually turned into a family with Eagles, Bengals, Cowboys, and Steelers fans, and I’m not sure I’m remembering the entire mass of adopted team loyalties there. Now, astute observers might have noticed that later versions of that commercial made a very subtle but important change to one of the lines: When explaining how one of the family members became a Steelers fan, they say he did it because he moved to Pittsburgh. The first version said he became a Steelers fan after he ate a few burgers at a local restaurant which were named after the Steelers’ quarterback. It’s a good change; the original version implied that the kid made a loyalty change because he ate a burger. I’m less finicky about attacking team loyalties than most other fans, but really, that one hinged on “Dude, why do you even bother at all?!” territory. As far as loyalty switches go, that one was inexcusable.

It did, however, make me start wondering about what rules we follow for keeping our sports loyalties, which allowed me to come up with this little guidebook about picking and holding onto your favorite sports teams.

General Guidelines for Picking a Team
First and foremost: If the area you live in has a particular loyalty to a team in the sport you follow, you must follow that team. If you live in a city that doesn’t have a team, then it’s helpful to follow whatever team the other locals are following – this is why it’s helpful to follow the Green Bay Packers in Wisconsin and the New York Yankees in New York – although it frees you up to pick any team you want. Your city isn’t directly involved with any sports rivalries the preferred team may have, after all, so you can do what you want.

If you’re in a place without a team, you’re free to try on teams like hats to see how they fit. You have to remember, though, you’re not necessarily looking for the best team. You’re looking for the one that’s the best fit. There’s a difference. Hanging on to the winning team for no reason other than an obsession with choosing the best team makes you look like a pathetic bandwagoner. If you choose one of the league’s face teams, brush up on your history because you’re going to need to defend yourself. Hell, brush up on your favorite team’s history anyway. Not only will it make you appreciate what you’ve gotten into to a fuller extent, it will help you understand the beliefs and traditions of long-term fans, and form a bond with the team.

If you live in a city without a team in the sport you follow and the league suddenly drops in with an expansion team, you have the option of either keeping your old team or adopting the expansion. You can do as you will; this is one instance where no one will bother you about a switch. You better be willing to suffer and grow if you adopt the new one, though; trying to jump back to the old one during a good stretch makes you a bandwagoner, especially if the new one is going through typical expansion pains.

When trying on teams, look for local connections. I started following an entire sport because a guy who went to my high school was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers. After he fell out of the NBA, I spent the next few years adopting new teams to see which one fit me the best, and I ran through loyalties the way a plow runs through snow. (I even started this blog during a phase of trying-on with the New York Knicks, and have run through three more teams since. Eventually, though, I made my way back to the Sixers. I’d like to see you accuse me of bandwagoning for THAT switch.) Feel free to waive a local connection if the team was ever based in your city and left, though; you wouldn’t stick with them if they walked out during your lifetime, so no one will blame you for avoiding them now.

Along those same lines: If your hometown did once field a team, but that team left before you were born, you’ve hit the statute of limitations. Don’t feel guilty about adopting them just because they walked off. Older fans may give you grief, but younger fans won’t care.

There’s no habit lower than fantanking. You spend your money to see the greatest athletes in the world play at their best, and yet you’re demanding they go against all their competitive instincts in a race to the bottom of the standings on the half-chance they’ll pick up the next great superstar in the next draft and be competitive in, oh, say, three more years? Read that out loud and see how absurd it sounds. Then try to imagine how bad it sounds to a guy who makes his living playing a professional sport. Those athletes aren’t going to be able to play forever, and asking them to play dead for multiple years while their teams maybe build a contender if everything goes right and a half-witted thought which doesn’t even guarantee success in a few years, so just stop it.

If you live in an area loyal to multiple teams, you get to pick only one of them.

You’re allowed to switch teams outright for the following reasons: 1 – The team moves; no one would blame you for adopting your old team’s archrival for that. 2 – The ownership is a complete embarrassment to the sport. We’re not talking about ordinary bad stretches here; every team goes through those. We’re talking about galactic sins which are evidence of an owner hating his fanbase. You think I never fantasized about leaving the Sabres after Terry Pegula bungled the front office? I did, but Pegula ultimately isn’t a villain. We’re talking guys like Dan Snyder, James Dolan (a major reason I finally concluded the Knicks would never be my team), Jeffery Loria, and Donald Sterling here. (Ironically, I ended up adopting the Chicago Blackhawks when they had reached this depth with their last owner.) 3 – Or you move to a new city and have reached your loyalty limit, and thus have to jettison one of your former teams if you’re hoping to fit in with your new community.

Loyalty Rules in Major Sports (MLB, NBA, NHL, and MLS)
You’re allowed to take from one to three teams, but before you go taking more than one, make sure you have some sort of connection with the host city first. A relative, a place you lived, your best friend moved there, something. If you’ve lived in more than three cities, then pick the teams from the cities that contributed the most to who you are.

If you like a team because of a particular player, then you like that player, not his team. I have no problems with switching teams to keep track of a player, but ‘fess up to it. The commercial I was talking about in my opening is a decent example of this – one family member decided she was a Cowboys fan because she met Emmitt Smith, although it goes a bit further there because she had a small bit of face time with him. I do think it’s important for players to try to make time for fans, and if a fan returns an especially pleasant encounter with an opposing player by switching teams, I can accept that. It’s not a solid excuse, but there are so many teams and players presenting themselves as above and beyond the regular folks that I can understand why it would warrant a switch.

When two of your teams play against each other, it’s okay to be neutral.

I can’t emphasize this enough: DO NOT pick a team just because it’s successful. You might be flying high on the recent successes of the New England Patriots, but Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will both retire someday, and when they do, the entire league is going to totally relish the traditional revenge beatings. The Los Angeles Lakers have turned into a freak show as of late. The Detroit Red Wings keep squeaking into the playoffs on a sixth seed, and all the big prize players want to play for their archrivals now. Every team has down periods, including the Yankees, and no one is ever going to admire you for latching on to a team from outside your area, either. So don’t expect anyone to pat you on the back for following whoever is doing well.

Loyalty Rules in Minor Sports
I emphasize keeping yourself local, but in minor sports, you have absolutely no excuse not to. If you’re following a minor league for a major sport, there’s an excellent chance of a team existing in your area. If you’re following a more unusual sport, it will probably be the local team that piqued your interest in it, so don’t turn your back on them just because the dominant team isn’t yours. Minor sports are difficult to follow in a lot of places, so you only get one team per minor league to carry.

Team existences in minor leagues can be insane. Minors think nothing of expanding when they don’t have to, winning three straight titles right off the bat, then folding two years later. Even the most diehard fans can get stuck without teams to follow for years at a time, because every league is a crazy cousin. Therefore, if you move from one area to another, it’s easiest to just switch to the team in your new home than to try to keep following the old one.

Don’t attack opposing fans. While this is always a good rule, it goes double in minor sports because if there are too many incidents, the league may not survive. The last thing they need is to lose fans because of you, so be hospitable.

Exceptions
Some sports are so odd that they require a few exceptional rules of their own.

College Sports
You can pick up as many teams as you want, as long as you were a student at those schools. If you never went to college, you get one team.

If you were a fan of a particular school but you attended college at a different school, it’s okay to keep pledging your loyalty to your old team, but you must always, Always, ALWAYS cheer for the team from your school. If your old favorite team plays against your school, yes, you have to cheer for your school. In short, your school’s team is your team, over and out, no matter how much you claim to prefer the other guys.

You don’t get to split your school loyalties based on sports. That makes you a bandwagon fan. You can only have one school to encompass all the sports, so pick the school that’s best at the sport you like the most.

European Soccer
After your team tryout phase, you get to pick one team. You’re not allowed to switch, ever. Even if your team gets relegated, they’re still your team, and you just have to wait it out until they make it back to the top level. If you made the mistake of adopting Cardiff City FC last season because their first promotion to the top level in 51 years was a nice feel-good story, too bad. You’re stuck.

NFL
Although I cited the NFL above, they’re an exception to every last one of these rules. You’re allowed to carry anywhere from one to 32 teams. The league doesn’t give a shit about its fans, so each and every fandom rule is void. Do anything you want. Someday, the way the NFL is going, it’s all going to be played on a soundstage before a live studio audience anyway, so don’t bother attaching any civic importance to it.

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Seven: The Masterpieces

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Seven: The Masterpieces

Here we are! The final section. Not much for me to explain in this one; these are, quite simply, the very best of naming American major professional sports have to offer. Each one carries a certain amount of regionalism, decent imagery, strong branding, originality, memorability, strength, and balance.

20: New York Metropolitans, MLB
The major qualm I have with this name is the way it fuels into New York City’s egotism and raging sense of self-congratulatory intellectual supremacy. Come on, New York City, we know two of your so-called boroughs – Brooklyn and Queens – operate their infrastructures on a more independent basis than the others. After that, though, there’s really nothing to complain about when it comes to the official name of the New York Mets. Even feeding into the city’s blustering, New York City is still the largest city in the country, and it’s not even close. New York City has an almost unmatched array of people and activities to keep everyone interested. It represents the modern and open-minded, making it a true 21st Century metropolis, and whenever something new and world-changing comes along, you can bet New York City is always one of the first places it will hit, which means the city is constantly evolving. The Metropolitans are mainly known by their field name, the Mets, which not only makes them the cool rebel alternative to the Yankees, but gives them a cool parallel to the Jets and Nets – the rebel alternatives to the Giants and Knicks, respectively. The name Mets also honors two of New York City’s other great institutions – the Metropolitan Opera and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which are both also nicknamed the Met. Unknown to many, it’s also the name of an early baseball team from New York City which only lasted a few years in the 1800’s, which gives Mets a sense of preserved history as well.

19: Ottawa Senators, NHL
Hey everybody, in Canada, they actually got the name of their national capitol’s team right. It doesn’t use a slur (Washington’s football team), it doesn’t use a generic cover-all term for Canadian (like Nationals), it doesn’t simply spotlight the city’s status for attention (Capitals), and it makes sense (unlike Wizards). I don’t know exactly what kind of approval ratings Canada’s Parliament pulls in, but at least the hockey team in Canada’s national capitol succeeds in honoring its outpost. Senators carries weight and balance – two triple-syllable words with a short A in the middle surrounded by harder sounds – while the branding and regionalism go with the territory.

18: New Orleans Saints, NFL
It’s funny to me that a laid-back city known mainly for its vices like New Orleans would be nicknamed the Saints, but then again, New Orleans is a Catholic outpost in an area of the country which is known for being Baptist. Saints holds a double meaning for the popular song “When the Saints Go Marching In,” an old gospel song which is now best known for the many jazz covers it inspired, very fitting in the birthplace of jazz. By combining the city of New Orleans with the idea of being a saint, the New Orleans Saints have taken a very unique road to being a standout: There’s no appeal to anger, intensity, ferocity, or savagery anywhere in this name. Instead, the name Saints holds a virtuous light up to the imagery, giving the team a positive symbol of human goodness, while the city’s name has become synonymous with creativity, uniqueness, and open-mindedness. Recently, New Orleans has become known as a city of resilience, full of people who continued to believe in it even after an enormous hurricane swept in and washed out many of its residents. It’s no wonder the New Orleans Saints have become the favorite football team of everyone in the country to some extent.

17: Texas Rangers, MLB
A few points are deducted because these guys are, sadly, forced to share their nickname with a certain NHL team which really doesn’t have any business using it. There’s no forgetting the branding, though, because the most famous statewide law enforcement agency in the country uses it. I’m not talking about just the nickname, either, but the entire thing: The Texas Rangers, who are actually more famous than the baseball team named after them, thanks in large part to a weekly action TV show starring Chuck Norris. (Although, since winning the Pennant in 2010 and 2011, the baseball Rangers have started making up a little ground, particularly after that vicious 2011 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.) Even if that weren’t the case, Texas Rangers is a great name standing alone, since Texas is synonymous with vast skies and wide open land ranges. Rangers also works as a colloquial to the nickname of Texas – The Lone Star State – because we tend to think of rangers as rugged individualists in the same vein as we do cowboys. Yeah, the Texas Rangers have every right to take themselves after their state rather than their metropolitan area (Dallas, if you don’t know).

16: Denver Nuggets, NBA
Let’s be frank: A small lump of rock isn’t the most inspiring thing to name a sports team after, even if it is supposed to represent a nugget of gold. The importance of the name Nuggets, though, comes from the fact that an entire state was built around the power of small shiny nuggets – Colorado was populated by the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush. That means there’s significant history and regionalism surrounding the name, not to mention a hefty dose of originality from a team that decided it wanted to take a chance with a name. Gold nuggets are a huge deal, in any case; they have the potential to put lots of money into the economy, and who doesn’t love money? So there are some good colloquialisms to be drawn from a nugget of gold: Gold means power, gold means wealth, gold means Murphy’s Golden Rule: Whoever has the gold makes the rules. So let’s stop knocking this team name as useless lumps when they can do all that.

15: Philadelphia Phillies, MLB
This name wins the regionalization contest hand down. If you ever forget where this team plays, just think of the nickname, and it will tell you everything you need to know about who you are and where you’re from. It one incredible swoop, Phillies nails everything right about team names: It’s regional, unique, memorable, original, and brands the team with a hot iron without even trying. Like the Los Angeles Angels, it makes the city nickname into the team nickname. Granted this name came from a time when every baseball team was named after its city, but that Phillies is the lone survivor speaks legions about its staying power and its resonance, especially if you’re also aware of the fact that it survived an incredible THREE efforts to change it.

14: Baltimore Ravens, NFL
I put Baltimore’s divisional rivals, the Cleveland Browns, way down at number 106, where I asked why Browns fans keep giving the Baltimore Ravens shit about their name. Here we are, in the top 20, and I’m still confused. Baltimore Ravens brings us the coolest literary allusion on this list. Baltimore was the original home of all-time American literary giant Edgar Allen Poe. Poe wrote an iconic poem called The Raven during a career which, while tragically understated during his own time, was blessed in historical hindsight when it inspired countless mystery and horror authors. That’s an awesome element in regionalizing and branding the team while also trying to get it to transcend football and appeal to literature geeks. The raven is also a great bird to use in an image, because instead of making an appeal to kitsch freaks or going with ferocity, ravens make an appeal to the terrifying and mysterious. They’re large and black, and can spook people in dark places. And so, be that as it may, ravens are frequently used in superstitions to mark omens, set moods, or act as psychological conductors. It’s pretty incredible to think that with all the birds flying around out there, more teams didn’t try to go with an image which holds that kind of power.

13: New York Knickerbockers, NBA
This one is based on a term popularized from another literary allusion, this time from Washington Irving. Irving’s first major book was called A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty by Diedrich Knickerbocker. Diedrich Knickerbocker was a fictional name Irving used in what was really an early version of a marketing campaign, but it was a nickname given as far back as the early Dutch settlers in New York state which eventually worked its way into regional lexicon first as a term for Manhattan’s aristocracy, then as a general term for New Yorker. As with the Ravens, that makes it both historical and regional, but it works better in this case because Knickerbocker was a term created strictly for the people living in the region. This team is like the Metropolitans in that it uses a stage name – the New York Knicks, and not only is Knick an effective nickname for Knickerbocker, it rolls just as nicely as a name for the team because it sort of combines the city’s name into one term: New York, combining the first sound in New and last in York, makes something very close to Knick when combined.

12: Boston Celtics, NBA
This would be a very good name no matter what, but this is one of those extremely rare cases where the mispronunciation makes it better. Celtics is usually pronounced with a K sound, but in this context, is pronounced with an S sound, which makes it roll nicely with Boston. The Celts were an ancient people with roots in Irish culture, who eventually diversified into a few different cultures, including the cultures of today’s British, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh people. The modern Celtic identity is mostly associated with the Irish, and Boston has a population of over 50 percent with Irish roots. It’s also a heavy stronghold of Irish Catholicism. That brings context to the team name. You have to give Celtics credit for not being degrading, too – unlike a certain sports program at the University of Notre Dame.

11: Houston Astros, MLB
It’s a little surprising to me that more teams don’t try to use space imagery. After all, powerful objects exist there, where they fly at incredible speeds. Yet, here’s a team name that can’t decide on just one of those objects…. So it takes a name that encompasses all of them! Astro is of course synonymous with space, which is fantastic for one of only a handful of cities on the planet that has a right to make an association with space. Houston is known as Space City, after all, and it beats a lot of the other associations you could make with Houston.

10: Seattle Mariners, MLB
This team replaced another baseball team called the Seattle Pilots, and I have trouble deciding which name is better. There’s certainly not much to complain about with this one. Seattle has an aviation history – Boeing is located there – but it also has a history as a major shipbuilding home and a reputation as a transportation center which was solidified during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897. So a name honoring sailors makes perfect sense, and it’s unique enough to be something not every city in the country can name a team. You think Dallas or Kansas City residents would ever buy into a team called the Mariners? The name also gives them the right to use the Mariner’s Star to brand themselves, another thing no other team can claim. Mariners also holds significant weight as a name – evenly balanced with its city name with three syllables – but what I really like about it is that, like the Seattle Seahawks, it holds another cloaked allusion to the city name. A mariner is a sailor. Seattle is a port city and a transportation hub whose first three letters are “sea.” That’s something even the Pilots didn’t have. You know what? I think I prefer the name Seattle Mariners to Seattle Pilots after all.

9: Philadelphia 76ers, NBA
Yes, this sucker is a monster of jumpy, soundalike consonants. But it somehow still manages to have an even balance, only this one is two five syllable words which both sound like a wrecking ball smashed its way the vowels which would have otherwise smoothed it out. I don’t think the people of Philadelphia, though, would have it any other way. 76ers is a reference to the year of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which took place in Philadelphia in 1776, bringing those regionalization and branding points, and that’s only helped by the fact that 76 is, according to reputation, a number which dominates modern Philadelphia. It’s another instance where the city gets exclusive awesome branding rights based on its history. Also, despite being such a mouthful, you have to admit the name does hold a certain charm: Philadelphia is dominated by PH and L sounds while 76ers makes you fly around those S sounds.

8: Pittsburgh Steelers, NFL
A name and city perfectly matched. Steelers is an honorific for steelworkers, and while steelworkers aren’t especially unique, no city had more of them than Pittsburgh. Steeler isn’t a particularly rugged-sounding name, but it does invoke images of molten metal being poured from giant buckets in huge factories, so there’s imagery that goes with Steelers. Pittsburgh has lately been the great success story of the Rust Belt, turning itself around after decades of depression through an infusion of modern industries, small projects, and utilization of its universities. Still, a lot of people there probably remember the bad old days, and as long as the Steelers exist, it will always be a reminder of both Pittsburgh’s past and the way people were able to keep their heads up, never believing their city was truly defeated when the bad times hit.

7: Baltimore Orioles, MLB
Yes folks, there is a real bird whose official name is the Baltimore oriole. It lives in the eastern and midwestern United States and received its name from having a physical resemblance to the Old World Oriolidae family, which is otherwise unrelated. Mostly, the oriole is a common perching bird, and can usually be found foraging in your backyard trees, shrubs, and backyard hummingbird feeders while chasing down the occasional insect. Not much different from an average blue jay or cardinal, both of which I slammed, but the Baltimore Orioles are rescued by their branding: It was given the name Baltimore oriole because its colors resembled those on Lord Baltimore’s Coat of Arms. I don’t know how a bird can be more regionalized than that, but the state of Maryland sure tried: The Baltimore oriole is Maryland’s official state bird! The name has a very nice roll to go with it, featuring Baltimore’s final syllable having the same sound as Orioles’ first syllable.

6: St. Louis Blues, NHL
Here’s another name taken from a classic song which also serves as the title of a music genre, not to mention what Blues fans find themselves singing during the postseason more often than not these days. “St. Louis Blues” is the title of a very real jazz song, and St. Louis became a highly regarded blues outpost when the musical genre slowly made its way north from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago. The title means the song is instantly regional, and it’s unique because music isn’t something that gets mentioned a lot in sports team names. Only the New Orleans Saints and Utah Jazz have that distinction, and the Saints got their name from a single word in a song while the Jazz name is grossly out of place. The St. Louis Blues have no such problems with their name.

5: Houston Rockets, NBA
Originally called the San Diego Rockets after a very silly title San Diego once bestowed onto itself, this team kept their name when they were forced to move to Houston. And in a startling contrast to the Utah Jazz or Los Angeles Lakers names, this is a name that might have been barely average during its time in its old home, but became an incredible fit in its new one. You know why Houston is nicknamed Space City? Because that’s where they launch rockets! Real rockets, the ones that carry people into space! NASA’s main control center is located in Houston, which means that every space mission ever launched in the United States – and some in foreign countries – kept in touch with the ground via the control station in Houston. Also, a rocket is a great colloquial for modernity, and despite the reputation of Texas, that’s one thing Houston is getting in spades – Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States at the moment, has over two million people, is growing, and considered a solid place to live. Cities don’t get to that position by trying to become blasts from the past. The name isn’t exactly original, but actual rockets are such a huge deal in Houston’s importance to the country and the world that the otherwise so-so branding gets elevated much like a real rocket.

4: Milwaukee Brewers, MLB
Whether or not Milwaukee has a right to be proud of its beer isn’t up for debate – that’s where they make Miller, so anyone heard defending that shit needs to be immediately forced to live in Greenland and forced to subside on Schlitz and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Milwaukee is a famous brewing hotbed, though, so it has every right to name a team the Brewers. The term isn’t exclusive to Milwaukee – St. Louis and Denver have giant stakes in brewing too – but it’s the city where the brewing industry has the most visible presence. Milwaukee and beer go together like peanut butter and jelly, so much so that even the ballpark is plastered with the name of the brewing corporation. And, of course, the brewer is the guy who makes the beer, so like the Steelers, this team is honoring the silent workers of a very old profession which is still very important in this country. This might be a good time to thank your deity of choice that most American sports leagues don’t do European soccer-style names; we might otherwise have ended up with something corporatized and wretched, like the Milwaukee Millers.

3: San Francisco 49ers, NFL
As we all know, the NFL is in love with images that it sucks at living up to. It infects the naming system as well as anything else. The league has a love affair with ferocity and, while there are probably no more bad names in the NFL than in any other league, it makes the NFL’s missteps particularly glaring. Washington’s football team, having a whopping four teams – including two 90’s expansions – named after big cats, two names for giants, two for birds of prey, one of those ridiculous teams named after a region instead of a place, plus the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills, and I didn’t even include everything. When the NFL does a name the right way, though, it turns out excellent, and there’s no better example of that than the San Francisco 49ers. Number names might come off as silly, but numbers have a way of regionalizing the team through huge aspects of their cities like little else. In this case, it sheds history’s light on the 1849 Gold Rush which brought swaths of people to California, resulting in California’s statehood two years later. 49ers were the nicknames given to the gold rushers, and in that single marvelous placement, the name becomes exclusive to San Francisco, historical, original, and memorable all at the same time, and the connection is so well-known that it doesn’t require tons of time to explain. The name is a little on the hard side to say, with eight total syllables which mostly sound completely different, but they all feature hard sounds for a very nice weight distribution.

2: Detroit Pistons, NBA
Here’s what we think of when we think of pistons: Parts of a constantly-moving machine, working together all at once in order to generate power. Anyone can appreciate that aspect of a name like the Pistons, all the more so if they know the Detroit Pistons won each of their three NBA Championships working in a very similar fashion – eschewing individual statistics in favor of a hard-fighting machine that works evenly (none of Detroit’s title teams featured any scorers who averaged 20 points per game). It’s a beautiful image anyone would want to associate with their favorite team, and the idea of pistons working to power something bigger denotes a scrappiness that matches its downtrodden city perfectly. The piston is a fitting image for Detroit, not only for the city’s history as America’s premier automaker, but for something that refuses to quit or give up. America might be giving up on Detroit, but Detroit isn’t giving up on itself. Pittsburgh was in the same position not too long ago, and look what’s happening there; in the meantime, Buffalo seems poised to make its move as well. We’re all cheering for Detroit here.

1: Portland Trail Blazers, NBA
So you have a sport like basketball, which is played at high speeds – blazing speeds, one might say! You decide to stick a team in a snug little outpost in the pacific northwest which most people don’t even realize exists. (The Blazers were created in 1970, long before Portland was the cool alternative to Seattle…. Hell, long before Seattle was ever even cool.) So you’re basically blazing the professional sports trail to Portland, and hell, even with Portland growing and becoming more important now, the other leagues have yet to follow you there. Portland still has a kind of outpost reputation, with an abundance of outdoorsy things to do, and back when most of the pacific northwest was unknown to Europeans and virtually impossible to get to, the people who made the trip were master outdoorsmen who were true pioneers in exploring and recording the territory – trail blazers in a handful of ways. Trail Blazers is a name which acknowledges the speed of its sport and the historical and regional aspects of its metropolitan area. There’s no doubt that it sticks out; it’s simple but highly original because no other team has any right to it, and trying to call a team from anywhere else just the Blazers would be generic 90’s residue. That means Trail Blazers is a fantastic way of branding a team which no one is likely to ever forget, even less so when you realize how cool it sounds and how easily it rolls off your tongue. The Portland Trail Blazers have been noted for being an underrated team with some significant on-court successes, but there’s no question about their name. It’s the best name in the major North American professional sports pantheon.

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Six: Built Strong on Solid Ground

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Six: Built Strong on Solid Ground

These are the name that are good. Very good. Good as they are, though, they frequently lack a singular element or two which prevents them from ascending to the summit. Admittedly, there are times when that singular element or two isn’t resonating with me for some reason, but the point here remains: All of these names are excellent, and none of them have any major points of contention to concentrate on and single out. While one or two of them might not fit quite the right way, I would be vehemently opposed to any of them who tried to change their names in order to make them more fitting or appealing. These team names are so good that, in trying to change them to make them more appealing, they all run a very serious risk of coming out for the worse and disastrously backfiring.

39: Colorado Rockies, MLB
Yes, we all know by now how cliche it is to name a team in Denver the Rockies. The 1993 MLB expansion team here isn’t even the first team to try it; the NHL moved into the area back in the 70’s after the Kansas City Scouts had failed. The NHL Colorado Rockies also failed, and so they headed east to become the New Jersey Devils. Still though, while Colorado Rockies is weakly balanced, when it comes to the mountain states, every state has a prominent image attached to it. Wyoming has Yellowstone; New Mexico has the desert. Colorado has the most dominant images of the Rocky Mountains, including Pike’s Peak and the Grand Canyon. You can’t deny Rockies fits Colorado like it wouldn’t fit in Montana.

38: Minnesota Twins, MLB
The name Minnesota Twins was given to the state’s baseball team because the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have famously failed to apply the adage of Minnesota nice to each other. They’re serious rivals whose residents take pride in never visiting the other city from whichever one they live in, so in order to quell any fury that may trickle through state sports loyalties, all the teams in the Twin Cities area take the name of Minnesota. Major League Baseball took it a few steps further when they named their Minnesota team after both the state and the metro area. It makes a good way for the cities to call off the blood feud during the baseball season; yes, they may be at each other’s throats for all time, but god forbid another baseball team should come into town. Apparently baseball in Minnesota must be a way for the residents of those two cities to unleash their pent-up rage from being Minnesota nice all the time. Like most of the other Minnesota sports team names, the Twins have to make do with a weak region name, and Twins doesn’t do anything to strengthen it. Minnesota and Twins are almost rhyming first syllables off each other, and Twins doesn’t have the long O to make up any missing strength, so the name Minnesota Twins feels a little incomplete.

37: Tennessee Titans, NFL
It’s hard to believe this team first tried to form a connection to Tennessee’s football fans by keeping their old name, thus making them the Tennessee Oilers. But the fans requested a name change, and the team owner listened and came up with a very good one. One of the nicknames of Nashville, the home city of the Titans, is “The Athens of the South.” Ancient Athens today is seen as a birthplace of democracy, philosophy, and higher learning in general. Vanderbilt University and Tennessee State University are just two of the 24 places of tertiary education in Nashville. There’s also a full-scale replica of the Parthenon, adding a visual to the nickname. And hey, what was the highest level of god in ancient Greek mythology? Titan! The name also has a very easy roll to it, and titans is a very dynamic word which invokes strength and power. You know all those ferocious weather names from the 90’s I said I hated so much? The ancient Greek titans controlled all those elements. The downside is that the Titans nickname feels sort of secondhand. Accurate imagery with Greek myths? Greece and Tennessee are different places. It’s a nice allusion, but not exclusive to Tennessee.

36: Minnesota Vikings, NFL
Another one of those weird names which should be considered politically incorrect but somehow isn’t – viking wasn’t a title, after all, but a people who are still all over the world today. And one of the more popular locations for those of Scandinavian heritage is in the Twin Cities. Viking imagery isn’t even particularly nice to have – while Indian names try to honor the more positive aspects of Indian imagery like bravery, honor, and nobility, viking imagery honors savagery, a great disservice to people who were non-interventional explorers, great strategists, and inventive shipbuilders. However, we can give a pass to that because football is a violent sport. The name does suffer from the same fault of other Minnesota sports team names: It doesn’t balance. We might be tricked into thinking it does, with the “ing” suffix in Viking, but the long I sound and Vikings being two syllables aren’t very complimentary to Minnesota, a four-syllable word with virtually no long sounds.

35: New Jersey Devils, NHL
The name Devils comes across as generic, but it’s based in the popular legend of the Jersey Devil. That equals a nice bonus for regionalization, if not so much originality. The Jersey Devil is a popular cultural icon in New Jersey, and its legend is recorded in Indian folklore. It has appeared in different forms of media and a lot of supernatural buffs believe so much in its existence that some of them form groups which collect reports, visit historical sites, and set out on the occasional night hunts in the Pine Barrens region of New Jersey to find anything they could take as solid evidence of its existence. There’s also the little matter of the name Devils probably working more than one church group into a froth – in 2005, a New Jersey state assemblyman tried to introduce a bill which would force the team to change its name to something less blasphemous. Branding like this can’t be bought.

34: San Antonio Spurs, NBA
Texas has a reputation as a big football state, but it seems to be missing out on its true calling. There are two professional football teams in Texas. While one is the immortal Dallas Cowboys, the other is a 21st Century expansion team with little following, and the NFL callously refuses to place a team in San Antonio – the eighth-largest city in the country – which has been clamoring for one for some time and even built the arena for one over 20 years ago. Fuck you, NFL. Fortunately, San Antonio can take solace in their beloved Spurs, the best of a trio of NBA teams that are all rewarding to follow. Originally slated to be the San Antonio Gunslingers, the name was changed at the last minute for no particular reason. It’s still a good name, though, because a spur is a well-known piece of cowboy equipment which people wore to control their horses during the days of the old west. And no state is more synonymous with the old west than Texas, which holds the imagery and continues to celebrate the old culture of those days. The one problem I have is that a spur is so inanimate and seems useless in this day and age, but I guess the name can be chalked up to a piece of historical equipment. San Antonio Spurs is a great name.

33: Philadelphia Eagles, NFL
You would think I’d have an unbridled hatred for this name. After all, it’s another one of those damned birds of prey, another testament to national appeal through vicious imagery rather than connection to local fans. Or is it? In this case, I can give the generic name a free pass because of what the city of Philadelphia represents in the historical context. Philadelphia is where the First Continental Congress met, where Thomas Paine published Common Sense, and where the national capitol was located until it was moved to Washington in 1800. Philadelphia played an enormous role in the American Revolution, and what is a popular symbol for American independence? The eagle, which was subsequently named the official national bird of the United States. Yes, it’s generic, but if any city has a right to regionalize the eagle, Philadelphia earned it, right along with the branding that goes with it.

32: New York Yankees, MLB
Speaking of American symbols. Here’s another team trying to take a spot as a blanket appeal to everyone by naming it after a generic term used by foreigners as a stand-in for Americans. In other words, Yankee is just another way of calling someone an American, and it gets crippled by the fact that in America itself, Yankee is regionalized depending on where you are and who you’re talking to. If you’re in the south, Yankees are northerners. In the north, they’re New Englanders, and so on. New York City is one of the most diverse cities on Earth, so while Yankees should be a generic name, what I like about it is that it presents the spirit of inclusion that appeals to people all over the world who visit or move there. It kind of says “No matter who you are or where you’re from, when you’re in New York City, you’re one of us.” And indeed, New York City has this history – it was the place where immigrants first left their ships, and around one in every seven Americans has a lineage that goes back through New York City. Yankees also has a cool ring to it, with two Y sounds and two K sounds in two back-to-back syllables. The Y is underutilized in nicknames, which also gives Yankees real distinction.

31: Los Angeles Clippers, NBA
This name would have a slightly higher rating had it stayed the San Diego Clippers, and a much lower rating if it had either stayed the Buffalo Braves or held on to the Braves nickname. Still, there’s not too much to complain about. Los Angeles is a giant port city, after all, with one of the largest port harbors in the world. The Clippers nickname is an allusion to a kind of cargo ship which was used in the days when giant canvas sails were the kings of the sea’s horizon. Clippers were known for being some of the fastest vessels available. None of the words in this name, though, come off as particularly strong, so I prefer the old San Diego Clippers name, where Diego is there to carry the weight of the weaker words surrounding it.

30: Indiana Pacers, NBA
Handicapped just because Indiana is a monster of a place name, but it fits because while Indiana is one of the basketball hotbeds of the United States, it’s best known for a whole other sport: Racing. Auto racing, to be exact, with the state’s greatest contribution to the sports world being the world-famous Indianapolis 500. Pacer most obviously is there to represent the pace car, a car which takes the race cars on a couple of slow laps around the race track just before the green flag. In a less obvious allusion, pacer can mean setting a pace, or creating and controlling the tempo for how a game plays out, which is probably what the team owners were hoping for when the Pacers were created. I’m awarding bonus points because Indiana Pacers has better balance than Indianapolis Pacers would have – next to a city name like Indianapolis, everything would look weak.

29: Dallas Cowboys, NFL
This name just makes good sense. Dallas has a history as a wild west frontier city, and what image represents the wild west frontier more than a cowboy? Dallas also fancies itself a city long on fast, high-rolling excitement and action, and that’s the common movie image of the cowboy: Fast, exciting, shootouts with the black bandana-wearing villains who tied the girl up to the train tracks. That’s far from the truth of what being a cowboy was really like, but the team itself certainly tries to live up to that image.

28: Miami Dolphins, NFL
Hey, another marine team! Dolphins is probably the best marine-related name because, being sea mammals, there’s presumably plenty of them in and around the Miami area. While dolphins get a perception as fun, friendly creatures, when observed in their natural habitat, they’ve been seen to be real assholes. We know they’re known to get into fights with sharks and win; some of them do it for no reason. Dolphins can be friendly when bred in captivity, and part of the reason they can learn and perform tricks is because of their incredible intelligence. Dolphins score very high on the chart of animal intelligence, right up there with monkeys, and are the most intelligent animals after humans. It’s also theorized that the dolphin brain was fully developed long before the human brain, meaning dolphins were once the smartest animals in the world. That’s a hell of an image to carry, all wrapped up in a very unique brand because everyone else apparently thinks dolphins are too cutesy to be used as a team nickname.

27: San Diego Padres, MLB
San Diego was originally a mission founded by Franciscan priests, so this name has a historical regionalism which makes it stick out. It can also serve a double meaning: Military chaplains are also frequently known as padres, and San Diego is very well known for being a military base outpost among everything else. Padre is a Spanish word, and that means it goes very nicely with the name of the city itself, which is also Spanish, and it’s also a clever way to appeal to the Mexicans who regularly move in and out of San Diego, since San Diego has a very convenient spot right along the Mexican border, with Tijuana along the Mexican part of the border. Hell, the entire metro area is referred to as the San Diego-Tijuana Metropolitan Area. It’s a very fitting name for a city with such a strong Spanish and Mexican influence, and there’s no need to complain about it not being vicious.

26: Chicago Bulls, NBA
A lot of the appeal of the Bulls name is the same of the appeal of the Bears name: Short but powerful word for an animal with power and crunch. But whereas the Bears had a parallel to the Cubs as an advantage, the Bulls do something better: Chicago was a major producer in the meat industry for a long time, and that makes the bull a very strong allusion to the beef industry that made Chicago an industrial giant. If you’re a literary geek, the allusion is made even stronger through the fictional neighborhood of Packingtown, which was created by author Upton Sinclair for his famous novel The Jungle, about the life of factory workers in the fictional community. That makes the bull a nice secondhand reference to the book that got the government started in making sure our food was clean and, eventually, seeing to it that people who worked in factories got treated like human beings. Maybe it’s not obvious outright, but that’s good enough to be a literary reference, and that’s always worth a few points with me.

25: Charlotte Hornets, NBA
The Charlotte Hornets are back! The second-youngest name on this list, Charlotte’s NBA team finally got its original name back a couple of months ago when the New Orleans Hornets decided they were finally finished with it. That’s good for it in the standings, because if you haven’t figured it out by now, I would have viciously skewered this name had these guys still been the Charlotte Bobcats. The historical precedent comes from a quote by general Cornwallis in the American Revolution, who referred to Charlotte as “A veritable nest of hornets” after the city put up a hell of a resistance to them. Hornets is also very unique and original, because insects don’t tend to be used as nicknames very often. Hornets have very venomous and painful stings, swarm, and are crazily territorial, adding a nice dose of ferocity. But you know why everyone loves the name Charlotte Hornets so much? Say it, and check out that balance! Four syllables, the first in each word ending in a hard R, and the second ending in a short T. There are only a handful of other teams on this list which have such a balance, and of them, the Hornets definitely have the coolest sound. R can be a nasty letter when it’s used properly. Buzz City, on behalf of NBA fans everywhere, we’re glad you’re back!

24: Edmonton Oilers, NHL
The Oilers are the other team from the Canadian province of Alberta. While the Calgary Flames use a generic name which is also a useful adage for how oil is frequently used, the Edmonton Oilers are a lot more direct: Here’s Edmonton, in the province of Alberta, sticking up like a sore thumb in the middle of the Canadian desert, where they dig up oil. And here’s a team called the Oilers, which happens to play in Edmonton. The Oilers have a unique name these days, since the NFL’s Houston Oilers don’t exist anymore, so it’s almost impossible to forget who the Oilers are or where they’re from.

23: Chicago Blackhawks, NHL
Part of the reason I like this name so much – besides the fact that they’re, you know, my team – is the fact that it adds so much nuance to political correctness. Perhaps the Blackhawks could use it as an advertisement: The team! That was named after a restaurant! A restaurant that was named after an army battalion! An army battalion that was named after a person! Yeah, even tracing it back all the way, the Hawks were named after a person. It’s rather unfortunate that their nickname is another generic bird of prey, because I take points off for that. But there’s no denying that Blackhawks is a name with character, and it finds a nice balance in a three-syllable-two-syllable dynamic simply by making the middle sounds the same in both words. It’s just that in Chicago, the short C is a syllable all to itself while in Blackhawks, the CK comes at the end of the first syllable. The name has an history in Illinois, too; Black Hawk was a Sauk tribe chief who led raiding and war parties as a young man, fought in the War of 1812, and led the British Band in the 1832 war presumably named after him. The team itself spent most of its existence known as the Black Hawks, until the owner randomly decided to use the name written on the original legal documents – Blackhawks – sometime in 1986.

22: Boston Bruins, NHL
If this was a list I was writing up solely on balance, the Boston Bruins would win it with almost no competition. Both are two-syllable words, both start with B and end in N, both of them are breezy with hard sounds. In that regard, the Boston Bruins are absolutely unmatched anywhere on this list. That gives the name memorability and strong branding as well, because who could possibly forget a beast like this? The only qualm is that this name is more generic than it comes off at first; a bruin is a foreign word for brown bear. (I forget which language.) But even then, you have to give this name credit for not going with the name Boston Bears and using the Bruins name, which makes it stick out more.

21: Arizona Diamondbacks, MLB
Not all names rooted in our 90’s love affair with all things fierce and XTREME!!! turned out badly. The desert can be an inspiration for some awesome team names, because it’s such a unique environment which takes resourcefulness and hardness to live in. It’s an environment exclusive to some very unique species, and some very particular species of more common animals. Arizona’s sports teams play it safe by going with the latter three out of four times (the exception being the generic Cardinals NFL team), and while the originality mark suffers for that, this is by far the best of what Arizona offers in team naming. The diamondback is a type of rattlesnake which is found in a few environments, but is most noted for being a desert animal. It’s extremely venomous and deadly. They’re also survivalists that can go without two years without food. It’s important to note the team didn’t go a more common route by just latching on to the name Rattlers. While the longer name may be a bit much, it works in this case because with 90’s ferocity a dime a dozen in sports team naming, Diamondbacks is one of those pattern breakers that sticks out among all those cat and weather names.