Pro Basketball Nicknames

Professional Basketball Team Nicknames
Atlanta Hawks
The franchise started as the Waterloo Hawks, then from 1946-1951 at Tri-Cities, as the Blackhawks who shared the home games between Moline, IL Rock Island, IL and Davenport, IA.  To Milwaukee, from 1951-1955, as the Hawks, then moved to St. Louis, from 1955-1968, as the Hawks, then moved to Atlanta in 1968.  Chief Black Hawks tribe had been located in Rock Island and a major part of the 1832 Black Hawk War took place in the area.  Shortened to Hawks when the franchise moved to St. Louis in 1955-56. Mascot: Skyhawk

Boston Celtics
Since 1946, The City famous for its great Irish heritage, and the legendary original, Celtics, who played as a barnstorming team, and the ABL in the 1920-30's.  Celtic means family of languages that include modern Welsh, Irish, and Scottish. Other names considered: Whirlwinds, Olympians, Unicorns.  (The Boston Unicorns was the name of the team in the Basketball Association of American Team in 1946)  The #4 Best North American Professional Sports Logo of the 20th Century per 2005 survey by Section 219/Classic Sports Logos. #9 Sports Brand of all Pro Teams-- 2008 Turnkey Team Brand Index

Brooklyn Nets
Originally the New Jersey Americans, renamed to the New York Nets, which rhymed with the other two city teams the Mets (baseball) and Jets (football).  in Teaneck , JY 1967-68, Commack, NY 1968-69, W. Hempstead, NY 1969-71, Uniondale, NY 1971-77, Piscataway, NJ 1977-81, E. Rutherford, NJ 1981.  Changed moved and changed the name from New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn Nets in 2012.  The Nets nickname rhymed with the other sports teams in New York:  Mets, Jets and Sets teams.  In 1994, the Nets reportedly considered changing their nickname to the Swamp Dragons or Fire Dragons to boost their marketing efforts.  

Charlotte Hornets 
Starting play in 2004-2005 season.  Charlotte started as the Hornets when they entered the league in 1988 and kept the name when they moved to New Orleans in 2002.  The new team in New Orleans chose the name Pelicans and allowed Charlotte to get the name of Hornets back.   Bobcats was once the name of the Charlotte team since bobcats are indigneous to western North Carolina.  Other nicknames considered: Dragons and Flight.  Cougars was also considered as the nickname of the Carolina ABA team in the 1970's.  Prior nickname: Hornets and Bobcats.  Other names considered: Spirit, Knights, Cougars, Crowns and Stars.  Mascot: Rufus.  The Bobcats were officially renamed the Hornets for the 2014-15 season.  

Chicago Bulls
Since 1966, named the Bulls, by the owner Dick Klein, in reference to the city's livestock industry and meat capital of the world.  The owner considered Matadors and Toreadors when his son exclaimed, "Dad, that's a bunch of bull!".  The rest is somewhat history.  Other nicknames: Bullets 1961-1963, Packers 1961-1966.  Other nicknames: Stags 1946-1950. Mascot: Benny the Bull and Lil' Benny.

Cleveland Cavaliers
Named by a contest. A Cavalier can refer to a gentleman with training in horsemanship and arms or to a knight.    Other entries were Jays, Foresters, Towers, and Presidents.  The name Presidents was an allusion to the fact that seven former US Presidents were born in Ohio, second only to Virginia.  From 1970-1974 in Cleveland, OH,  moved to Richfield, OH in 1974.  Other nicknames: Rebels 1946-1947.  Mascot: Whammer the Polar Bear.  #19 Sports Brand of all Pro Teams-- 2008 Turnkey Team Brand Index

Dallas Mavericks
Since 1980, named in a contest.  An American pioneer Samuel A. Maverick, a Texan who neglected to brand his cattle. Other entries were Wranglers and Express.  Other nicknames: Chaparrals 1967-1973, called Texas Chaparrals in 1970-71, moved to San Antonio. Mascot: Mavs Man.

Denver Nuggets
Since 1967, formerly the (San Diego) Rockets, renamed Nuggets after 7 seasons, the name of the previous Denver AAU/NBL/NBA team, in the event of an ABA/NBA merger.  Team officials chose the Nuggets because it paid tribute to the 19th century mining boom in Colorado when people rushed to the area, hoping to make their fortune in panning fo rgold and silver nuggets.  The Nuggets nickname also draws a connection to the defunct Denver Nuggets that played one season (1949-50) in the NBA.  Other Nicknames: Rockets 1967-1976. Mascot: Rocky the Cougar.  Rocky is the #9 Best Mascot per 2008 survey

Detroit Pistons
Named Zollner Pistons due to Fred Zollner's ownership of a Zolner Machine Works, a piston plant. Renamed the Pistons upon entry to the NBA. Originally from Ft. Wayne from 1941-1957, moved to Detroit from 1957-1978, then to Pontiac, MI 1978-1988, then to Auburn Hills, MI in 1988. Other nicknames: Falcons 1946-1947.  Mascot: Hooper #17 Sports Brand of all Pro Teams-- 2008 Turnkey Team Brand Index

Golden State Warriors
Named after the Philadelphia Warriors, a former ABA team, 1946-1962, then moved to San Francisco from 1962-1971, moved to Oakland in 1971. Mascot: Thunder.

Houston Rockets
Originally, the San Diego Rockets (1967-1971) from a contest.  Moved to Houston in 1971, for a city famous for the NASA Space program.  The city theme is "A City in Motion", since it is the site for the manufacturing of Atlas Rockets.  Mascot: Clutch.

Indiana Pacers
Since 1967, named for the area's famous harness racing history, famous Indianapolis 500 Raceway, and to signify their intent of setting the pace in basketball.  Other nicknames: Indianapolis Jets 1948-1949, Indianapolis Olympians 1949-1953. Mascot: Boomer and Bowser #119 Sports Brand of all Pro Teams-- 2008 Turnkey Team Brand Index

Los Angeles Lakers 
Renamed Minneapolis Lakers, after moving from Detroit (Gems) in reference to the large cargo carrying ships on the Great Lakes, and the Minnesota state motto "Land of 10,000 Lakes".  From 1947-1960 in Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1960-1967 then to Inglewood, CA in 1967.

Los Angeles Clippers
The franchise was originally the Buffalo Braves, from 1970-1978, then changed to the San Diego Clippers from 1978-1984 for the cities history as  a harbor for clipper ships and the Star of India which was still harbored in San Diego. Moved to Los Angeles in 1984.

Memphis Grizzlies
The franchise originally started as an expansion team in 1995, as the Vancouver Grizzlies.   Moved to Memphis in 2001.  Names of the former Memphis ABA teams: Pros, Tams, and Sounds.  Home Arena: The Pyramid.

Miami Heat
Since 1988, named from a contest.  Other entries were Sharks, Tornadoes, Beaches, Barracudas, Flamingos and Waves.  Other nicknames: Floridians 1968-1972, called simply Floridians from 1970-1972. Mascot: Burnie.

Milwaukee Bucks
Since 1968, named from a contest. Other entries were Skunks, Beavers, Stags, Hornets, Stallions, Ponies, Badgers, Packers and Braves.  Other nicknames: As the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, moved to Milwaukee as the Hawks in 1951.  Milwaukee Hawks moved to St. Louis in 1955.  Muskies 1967-1968, moved to Miami, and Pipers 1968-1969, moved back to Pittsburgh. Mascot: Bango.  #94 Sports Brand of all Pro Teams-- 2007 Turnkey Team Brand Index

Minnesota Timberwolves
Since 1989, named from a contest.  The other finalist entry was Polars. Mascot: Crunch.

New Orleans Pelicans
Since 1988, originally located in Charlotte (as the Hornets), where the team nickname got the meaning of it's name, which has been continued in New Orleans.  During the Revolutionary War, General Cornwallis remarked about the resistance met in North Carolina, "Theres a rebel behind every bush, it's a veritable nest of Hornets!"  Moved to New Orleans in 2002. For the 13-14 season, team name to be changed from the Hornets to the Pelicans.   The Brown Pelican is the state bird of Louisiana and are plentiful in the area.   #14 Sports Brand of all Pro Teams-- 2008 Turnkey Team Brand Index

New York Knicks
Since 1946, the name is short for the name Knickerbockers, for the decedents of the Dutch settlers of New York. (when New York was known as New Amsterdam)  The term "Knickerbockers" traces its origin back to the Dutch settlers who came to the New World.  It refers to the style of pants the settlers wore- pants that rolled up just below the knee, which became known as "Knickerbockers", or "knickers". The Knickerbocker name had its first use in the world of sports in 1845, the Alexander Cartwright's Manhattan-based baseball team (the first organized team in baseball history) was named the "New York Knickerbockers". It soon was shortened to Knicks.  Mascot: Dancing Harry #121 (last place) Sports Brand of all Pro Teams-- 2008 Turnkey Team Brand Index

Oklahoma City Thunder
The Seattle SuperSonics team moved to Oklahoma City in 2008, and changed the team nickname to the Thunder.  The Thunder nickname refers to the powerful storms in the area known as tornado alley.  The 45th Infantry Division based in the city is called the Thunderbirds, a reference to the state's American Indian heritage.  Other names considered: Renegades, Twisters and Barons.

Orlando Magic
Since 1989, named from a contest. The City is famous for Disney World and its"Magic" Kingdom.  Other finalists were Floridans, Orbits, Astronauts, Aquamen, Sentinels, Juice, Heat and Tropics.  Mascot: Stuff the Magic Dragon.

Philadelphia 76'ers
In 1963, renamed the 76'ers from a contest, after moving from Syracuse from 1949-1963 as the Nationals.  Named for the cities famous Declaration of Independence Heritage of 1776. Mascot: Hip Hop.

Phoenix Suns
Since 1968, named from a contest.  Named for the hot Sun that shines on Phoenix.  Other entries were Scorpions, Rattlers, Thunderbirds, Wranglers, Mavericks, Mustangs, Cougars.  Mascot: Go-Rilla.  Go-Rilla is the #4 Best Mascot per 2008 survey

Portland Trailblazers
Since 1970, named from a contest, from all other entries, the name Chinooks was considered, but Trailblazers chosen in the end.  In the name the team contest, Pioneers was the most popular but ruled out due to nearby Lewis & Clark College already used the nickname.

Sacramento Kings
The franchise began as the Rochester Royals from 1945-1958, then moved to Cincinnati as the Royals in 1958-1972, then changed to the Kings 
( to avoid confusion with the baseball team the KC Royals and minor league Omaha Royals), for a team dividing home games between Kansas City, MO and Omaha, NE from 1972-1975, then located only in Kansas City,  MO from 1975-1985.  Moved to Sacramento in 1985.  Other Kansas City name entrie were Steers, River Kings, Tornadoes, Plainsmen, Barons, Regals, Scouts, Crowns and Stars.  Mascot: Samson The Lion.

San Antonio Spurs
Renamed the Gunslingers after moving from Dallas as the Chaparrals from 1967-1973, and later renaming the San Antonio Spurs, 1973.  Other entries were Stampede, Armadillos, Defenders, and Texans.  #7 Sports Brand of all Pro Teams-- 2008 Turnkey Team Brand Index

Toronto Raptors 
Named from a contest. Other finalists were Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs, Scorpions, Tarantulas, Terriers, Towers, T-Rex.  Other nicknames: Huskies 1946-1947. Mascot: The Raptor.

Utah Jazz
Named from a contest. The name came from a team originally located in New Orleans from 1974-1979, famous for Jazz Music.  Moved to Salt Lake City in 1979. Other New Orleans entries were Dukes, Cajuns, Pilots, Crescents, Deltas, Knights.  Other nicknames: Stars from 1970-1975. Mascot: Jazz Bear.

Washington Wizards
The franchise started in Chicago from 1961-1963, first as the Packers, then as the Zephyrs in 1962,  then moved to Baltimore from 1963-1973, to become the Bullets, which was the name of the previous Baltimore NBA team (which played in an armory) , moved to Landover, MD in 1973 and  changed to Capital Bullets, then in 1974 to the Washington Bullets before changing to the Wizards. Other Washington DC finalists to the Wizards were Dragon, Express, Seadogs and Stallions.  Other nicknames: Capitols 1946-1951, Caps 1969-1970, moved to Virginia. Mascot: G.Wiz.

If the league expands or a team moves....where is the BEST city for a new NBA team?
Top 10 Largest Cities without a NBA Team (as of 2007 population):

  1. San Diego, CA
  2. San Jose, CA
  3. Jacksonville, FL
  4. San Francisco, CA
  5. Columbus, OH
  6. Austin, TX
  7. El Paso, TX
  8. Seattle, WA (starting in 2009)
  9. Nashville, TN
  10. Las Vegas, NV

National Basketball Association Arenas


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