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Team Name Changes That Almost Happened

March 29, 2019

Usually when professional sports teams change names it’s because they moved cities. Sometimes they do it for marketing reasons. Or they decide at the last minute to not change it, or do change it and overlook some other options.


By the early ‘90s, the NBA’s Nets had existed for more than 25 years and still hadn’t racked up much of a legacy. Beginning life as the New York Nets in the ABA, they joined the NBA with a league merger in 1976, moved to East Rutherford, New Jersey, and routinely ranked near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. In 1993, team executives thought the best way to bring in new fans for such a lowly team would be a big, flashy name change (with lots of new jerseys and other official team merchandise to sell). After spending $500,000 to design and trademark names and logos, the team decided on…the New Jersey Swamp Dragons. Despite overwhelming approval by other team owners, the team decided to keep the Nets name and get new team colors instead.


Before they were the Washington Wizards, the NBA team in D.C. was known as the Washington Bullets. (The reasoning: bullets are fast.) In 1997, owner Abe Pollin, grieving over the gun death of his close friend, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, initiated a change to a team name that he felt didn’t glorify violence. Pollin and a hand-selected committee gave fans five final choices: the Wizards, Stallions, Dragons (what is it with NBA teams and dragon names?), Express…and Sea Dogs. A vote was held, and Wizards was the clear favorite.


The Dallas Cowboys is known as “America’s Team,” because they’re one of the most famous and popular sports teams in the world, thanks in part to a run of championships in the 1970s and foisting the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders onto the world. It’s hard to believe that it would have happened with some other name choices. Before the team started play in 1960, the team was officially named the Dallas Steers. Realizing that a steer is a castrated animal, owner Tex Schramm quickly changed Steers to Rangers, but had to abandon that name because of minor league baseball’s Dallas Rangers.


Native American and human rights groups have long fought the NFL and its Washington, D.C. affiliate over its mascot name, a loaded and what some believe to be offensive word for Native Americans. In 1994, the fight went all the way to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, who ruled that the Washington (rhymes with “bread fins”) couldn’t use their name because if was so volatile. The team would’ve had to get a new name (Redhawks has been most often thrown around as an option), but owners appealed the decision, and the team got to keep its name.

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