As published in the Providence Sunday Journal, November 15, 2015.
When the Los Angeles Lakers play their next game at the Staples Center, a fan sitting courtside might wonder: Where are these lakes, anyway?
In Minnesota, it turns out.
Before the Lakers moved to L.A., they were the Minneapolis Lakers. That makes sense. Minnesota is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” When the franchise migrated to California in 1960, it left the lakes behind — but not the name. So for more than 50 years, in a place known for its lack of rainfall, people have flocked to see a team identified with bodies of water almost 2,000 miles away.
Here in New England, our team names present no such disconnect. The Patriots and Revolution reflect our colonial past, and the Celtics honor the region’s large Irish-American population.
The original owner of Boston’s professional hockey team, Charles Adams, wanted a name that conveyed speed, agility and cunning. “Bruins” delivered the hat trick. The name also lent itself to brown and yellow uniforms, which just happened to be the colors of the owner’s grocery chain. When Adams’ team skated, it was subliminal advertising on ice.
“Red Sox” became an official name in 1907, as the club adopted red as its color and featured a red stocking on the front of the players’ jerseys. In 1933, when George Preston Marshall moved his fledgling professional football team, the Boston Braves, to Fenway Park, he changed the team’s name to “Redskins” to align with the Red Sox. Four years later, the Boston Redskins became the Washington Redskins. So, interestingly, the colors and name of the Red Sox played an early and unwitting role in the controversy that surrounds the Redskins’ name and logo today.
The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t alone in maintaining a name at odds with a club’s locale.
The Baltimore Colts were named in recognition of that city’s rich history in horse racing. Indianapolis, where the Colts relocated in 1984, is famous for racing too, but the focus is on a different type of horsepower — the kind that propels Indy cars at speeds up to 225 miles per hour.
British Columbia is home to a large grizzly bear population, so naming a National Basketball Association team the Vancouver Grizzlies made sense. Keeping the name after the franchise moved to Memphis? Not so much.
New Orleans’ original NBA franchise produced one of my favorite team names: the Jazz. The non-plural noun stood out and conveyed the improvisational beauty that basketball can produce. But when the team moved 1,700 miles northwest, it committed a technical foul for name weirdness: Utah Jazz?
Next thing you know, the Heat will move to Green Bay and remain the Heat.
Relocation doesn’t always create naming mismatches. The San Diego Rockets became the Houston Rockets, and the new combination was a perfect fit. Houston is home to major aerospace companies and the Johnson Space Center.
Here in Rhode Island, the names for most of our college teams are traditional enough: Brown Bears, Providence Friars, Rhode Island Rams. That’s not the case at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
In contrast to the fierce mascots at many universities — Go Tigers! Go Hawks! — UCSC teams are represented by the lowly Banana Slug, a 6- to 8-inch bright-yellow mollusk that slides around the forest floor in the Santa Cruz Mountains. At one point, a chancellor tried to change the name to something more conventional — the Sea Lions. But in a student vote, the Banana Slug prevailed.
In 2008, ESPN named it one of the 10 best mascots in college basketball.
Go Banana Slugs!