Friday, January 16, 2009

WNBA Team Names

A lot of traditional sports fans decry WNBA team names which are usually singular nowns. Only four of the thirteen WNBA teams have names that end in the letter "s". When the Seattle Sonics moved to Oklahoma City, traditionalists were up in arms that the new name - the Thunder - was another non-plural noun.

Even though baseball and football don't have teams with non-plural nouns, basketball - a sport which only found itself on firm professional footing in the 1950s - has been more willing to experiment. In 1974, the New Orleans Jazz because one of the first major franchises without a traditional plural noun as a team name. In the late 80s, the Jazz (now in Utah) was joined by the Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat.

Perhaps the reason so many WNBA teams have non-traditional names is because it isn't "traditional" for women to have a professional league of their own. If conventional wisdom was to be set on its ear by the WNBA, why not set aside the old naming conventions as well? Aside from soccer, non-traditional team names have also become synonymous with the WNBA.

Here are the origins of the team names of the thirteen WNBA teams:

Atlanta Dream - The nickname for the expansion Dream was chosen in a contest. The name is evocative of the famous "I Have a Dream" speech from Dr. Martin Luther King, the famous civil rights activist who was born in Atlanta.

Chicago Sky - The name was decided by the franchise and is evocative of the Chicago skyline. Chicago boasts three of the five world's tallest buildings.

Connecticut Sun - The team was originally named the Orlando Miracle, after its brother NBA team the Orlando Magic. It was then purchased by the Mohegan Native American tribe in Connecticut and renamed after the Mohegan Sun casino.

Detroit Shock - The name keeps with the automotive theme of its brother NBA team, the Detroit Pistons. Shock owner William Davidson is also the principal owner of the Pistons.

Indiana Fever - This rather generic name was chosen to evoke the feverous passion for basketball that exists in the state of Indiana. The team shared the colors of the NBA Indiana Pacers.

Los Angeles Sparks - From a quote from WNBA: A Celebration

"Los Angeles President Johnny Buss's inspiration was from an unlikely source. With a final deadline approaching, Buss was discussing the nickname while on the phone with the WNBA. At the same time, Brandi Bratcher, who worked for Buss, was on the phone with her dad, who was a welder. He suggested Sparks because, he said, when welding, sparks will fly and the basketball team should do the same thing. Buss was sold."

Minnesota Lynx - The name keeps with the wild animal theme of its brother NBA team, the Minnesota Timberwolves. Glen Taylor owns both the Lynx and the Timberwolves.

New York Liberty - The team derives its name from the Statue of Liberty, which is used as the Liberty's logo.

Phoenix Mercury - The team was formerly owned by Jerry Coangelo, who was the former owner of the Phoenix Suns. Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun. The name has a unique triple-meaning - the Mercury art deco logo is avocative of the vehicles of the 1950s such as the Ford Mercury, and Phoenix is known for its hot temperatures.

Sacramento Monarchs - The name keeps with the royalty theme of its brother NBA team, the Sacramento Kings. The Maloof family owns both the Kings and the Monarchs. The Monarchs logo also has the suggestion of the butterfly wings of the Monarch butterfly.

San Antonio Silver Stars - The team was originally named the Utah Starzz, to honor of the old ABA team the Utah Stars - the Stars was customized to "Starzz" because of the double-zz ending of the Utah Jazz, and both the Starzz and the Jazz were owned by the same owner in 1997. The team moved to San Antonio in 2003, and combined the silver color of the San Antonio Spurs with the "lone star" of Texas.

Seattle Storm - The Storm was named after the Seattle rainy weather. The name also was "what the team plans to do to the league".

Washington Mystics - The name keeps with the magical theme of its brother NBA team, the Washington Wizards. After 2005, the Wizards and Mystics were owned by separate companies.


Ethan said...

Someone (forgot who) last season was bagging on Indiana for having a "non threatening" team name. As in, the W is inferior because, duh, women "play" sports in it, and anything the men do is implicitly superior.

Oooo, scary Indiana Pacers. Ooooo! They're gonna walk, run, or drive exactly the same speed as you do! Ooooo! They're going to force a line of Indy cars to drive 70MPH during a caution flag! Oooooo!

Not to mention the scary Cardinals, but that's a different sport (pro teams). Oooo, I'm going to land on a tree branch and fly away before you can remember where you out your camera! Ooooo!

Rebecca said...

And if we're gonna get all historical:

The Charlotte Sting were named to match the Charlotte Hornets. When the Hornets decamped for New Orleans, the Sting's color scheme was changed to match the Bobcats' scheme.

The Houston Comets were named in the city's tradition of names having to do with space (Comets, Rockets, Astros), thanks to NASA's presence in the city.

The Miami Sol were named to match the Miami Heat, and also to relate to the heavy Latino presence in the city, Sol being Spanish for sun. There's an urban legend that the reason the Connecticut Sun played in red and yellow for their first year was that the order for Miami's uniforms had already been placed, though the shades are different. The Sol relied more heavily on the yellow than their big brothers did, to set themselves apart from the Heat.

The Portland Fire were named to match the Portland TrailBlazers, usually known as just the Blazers. The color schemes matched closely, with the major difference being the Fire's gold.

The Cleveland Rockers were named in honor of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, and shared the Cavaliers' colors of the time.

You'll notice that the Sparks' logo is closest to their big brother's, that they use the same font, and that their colors are virtually the same, with the tertiary green being the only difference- that was done because the names were not tied together. (I also like that the spark extending out of the K in the logo looks like a palm tree.)

Storm may also be a nod back to the ABL team there, the Seattle Reign.

pt said...

Ethan, I am going to remember both the Pacers and Cardinals and use it any chance I get. (Much less the Toronto Blue Jays.)

Rebecca, thanks for the info on the other WNBA teams and the Sparks origin, as well as the Reign/Storm connection (which isn't named explicitly on the Storm's history page).