Right now, the NBA Finals could’ve be a battle between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Presidents. Really!
“Cavaliers,” referring to the royal loyalists during the English Civil War, won a name-the-team poll in 1970 in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. Ironically, the pro-crown name beat out a pro-democratic name. One of the other options was Presidents, referring to how seven American presidents had been born Ohio.
Go Swamp Dragons!
The Brooklyn Nets used to be the New Jersey Nets, and before that they were the New York Nets, when they joined the NBA after fleeing the defunct ABA in the ‘70s. The team was a perpetual bottom-of-the-standings occupant and so in 1994, Nets executives came up with a publicity stunt: to change the team’s name to the New Jersey Swamp Dragons. (They changed their minds.)
The Boston Celtics are among the most storied teams in all of professional sports, including its years in which Bill Russell lead the team to 11 championships in the ‘50s and ‘60s, to the Larry Bird years of dominance in the ‘80s, to its current title contention status. It’s hard to imagine the Celtics commanding as much respect if the team had gone with one of its other name ideas: the Unicorns.
The Memphis Grizzlies began life in 1995 as the Vancouver Grizzlies. That nickname was the result of a quick fan poll, edging out Ravens. The poll had to be done in the first place because the original team name selected—the Mounties—was nixed by the actual Royal Mounted Canadian Police.
The Grizzlies moved to Memphis in 2001 and kept the name…mainly because the NBA objected to an offer by Memphis-based Federal Express that would’ve given the team $100 million to rebrand as the Memphis Express.
The New Orleans Jazz moved to Utah in 1979, and took with it its geographic-specific name. Nevertheless, it could’ve been even more New Orleans-oriented: the team was almost named the New Orleans Cajuns.
Go White Wing Doves!
Before they were the Phoenix Suns, the team invited locals to send in team name ideas. More than 28,000 entries came in, including Scorpions, Thunderbirds, Rattlers, Dudes, Cactus Giants, Poobahs…and White Wing Doves. (Owner Jerry Colangelo ultimately got to pick, and he chose the simple “Suns.”)