I collected basketball cards as a kid. I also collected baseball cards as a kid. I also had no friends as a kid. These little glossy photos became my friend substitutes – my “I can’t believe they’re not friends!” When i hung out and played games it was with Tim Hardaway, Byron Russell, Fred McGriff, and Wade Boggs. One of the games I would often play involved splitting up players and battling their statistics against each other. I would create juvenile efficiency ratings and weight positions differently in my attempts to determine which of my made up teams would win in this fantasy battle of bball. One method I used often was to split up players based on the geographic area of their team. This way I could have a team of Jason Kidd (First Mavs run), Clyde Drexler (of Houston), Jamal Mashburn, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajowon battle it out against the Northeast powerhouse of Sam Cassell (Nets), Allan Houston, Jerry Stackhouse, Antoine Walker, and Patrick Ewing. I was soon organizing the players on the imaginary map that covered my floor.
In college a friend challenged me to draw a map of the US by memory on a whiteboard. To my surprise I did it well and it was thanks to basketball cards. I also knew the cities of these states and I knew what these cities meant – who lived in these places. I knew Atlanta was full of birds of prey (Falcons, Hawks), and that Baltimore was the pussy-ass version of that (Ravens, Orioles). The middle of Texas was still the old west (Cowboys, Mavericks, Spurs, and Stars) and Phoenix was in the middle of the desert (Diamondbacks, Suns, Coyotes). Houston was where space was born (Astros, Rockets), Detroit had cars (Pistons, Red Wings), and Boston had defunct sects of humans that were anachronistically placed in modern times (Bruins, Celtics, Patriots).
Teams keep being formed, but with the explosion of the internet comes the opportunity for poorly done democracy in the naming process. This form of naming (polling internetians) kills the team owners power in forming children’s opinions of cities. This can be good or bad. I assumed that the Bay Area was a magical world of warring ancient gangs (Raiders, Warriors, Kings, Giants, Athletics) which wasn’t so far off, and I thought Chicago was either overrun by large animals or where Wall St. existed (Bulls, Bears, Cubs) which was very far off. Now branding of our cities is left to the lonely teenagers who spend too much time on the internet, and I would not have been creative at that time.
I learned that DC had lots of murders because the Bullets claimed it as their home, but in 1998 they asked the city to come up with a less violent name and the fans chose “The Wizards.” There is nothing magical about that city except for how fantastically slow it takes to pass legislation (WHOA!!!! BAM!). This isn’t fair, kids shouldn’t grow up thinking that there are magicians in our capital, or that Oklahoma is a constant lightening storm, or that massive jungle cats roam the streets of Charlotte (Bobcats, Panthers), or that Tennesseans are a race of powerful gods (Titans), or that Minnesota is full of people who confuse adjectives and nouns (Wild). Or maybe they should. Maybe this is the fun of democracy is that we still must listen to our stupidest members.
One thing is for sure, we should demand that teams change names when they change cities. I was full of misconceptions growing up thinking LA was the land of a thousand lakes (Lakers) or that Utah had any black people (Jazz).
Change is good, I guess I like it, but we can’t be satisfied with the fact that we changed once. We started renaming teams, great, we used democracy (sort of), great, let’s get better names, let’s educate our lonely teenagers so they vote for cooler names and let’s name teams after very prevalent and possibly less interesting things in each city.
New Team Names:
The Boston Drunks, New York Snobs, The Miami Skin Cancer, The New Orleans People Who Should Move, The Dallas Secessionists, The Phoenix Racists, The Los Angeles Fake Boobs, The Philadelphia Unnecessary Anger, The Seattle People Who Miss Nirvana Because it Made Their City Seem Relevant, and The Detroit (This Name for Sale).