Have you ever wondered why the National Basketball Association team in Los Angeles is called the Lakers? Does it make sense for a team sitting right beside the largest ocean in the world is called the Lakers, when there is nary a lake of any consequence for a few hundred miles, at least?
Well, there’s a simple explanation, of course. The Lakers’ franchise originated in Minneapolis, which sits within the state of Minnesota, which boasts “Land of 10,000 Lakes” as one of its most famous mottos. But when the Lakers’ franchise moved to Los Angeles, the team name accompanied it. Rather than the Los Angeles Stars, or the Wildfires, team owners simply kept the Lakers’ name.
Which takes us next to Salt Lake City, headquarters of the Mormon church and home to perhaps the largest segment of religious people in North America. That city’s basketball team is called the Jazz, which makes no sense at all. “Hymnsingers’ or ‘Prayers’ might be a more appropriate nickname, but the Salt Lake City franchise moved from its original home in New Orleans, where Jazz was totally appropriate for a team moniker.
This weird-name situation has even crossed the border. The Atlanta Flames, so named because of the great Atlanta fire of 1917 which destroyed 1,900 structures and caused 10,000 people to be homeless, moved to Calgary in 1980 and the team’s flaming ‘C’ logo is ubiquitous across the province. But those who didn’t know the Atlanta-connected history of the franchise might wrack their brains trying to figure out why a Calgary team is called the Flames. Floods, perhaps. Foothills, perhaps. Even Financiers. But not Flames.
Which takes us next to Winnipeg, the beneficiary of the second failed iteration of an NHL franchise in Atlanta — the Thrashers. Not convinced that fans in Georgia didn’t give a hoot about professional hockey, the league granted Atlanta its second-time-around franchise in 1997 and it took 14 years for the owners to throw in the towel. They sold to a panting ownership group in Winnipeg, where fans’ tears still hadn’t dried by the Jets’ move to Phoenix in 1996. Wisely, the new owners in Phoenix used an Arizona connection to name their adopted team (the Coyotes) while the Winnipeg owners fulfilled fans’ wishes in 2011 when they renamed the former Atlanta team the Jets, a name made famous in the 1970s by Bobby Hull and the Swedish connection in the World Hockey Association.
Jets and Coyotes makes sense; the Lakers in L.A., the Jazz in Salt Lake City and the Flames in Calgary do not.
• The late writer George Plimpton on quality of sports literature compared to the size of the ball: “There are superb books about golf, very good books about baseball, not many good books about football or soccer, very few good books about basketball and no good books at all about beach balls.”
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