The Washington Wizards have gone through six name changes in their franchise history, but for some, the “Bullets” team name–which the franchise kept for 34 of their 52 seasons (65.4%)–remains the only team name fit for the franchise. NBA fans, get ready for the return of the Charlotte Hornets and the introduction of the New Orleans Pelicans.
The “Bullets” name originated in the sense of, “faster than a speeding bullet,” but former Team Owner Abe Pollin changed the name of the franchise to “Wizards” in 1997, as he felt the name “Bullets” connoted gun violence rather than Superman.
From D.C. Sports Bog, who cites Washington Post writer Richard Justice:
“We haven’t made a final decision. In the old days, our motto was Faster than a speeding Bullet.’ That’s how we were envisioned in Baltimore. Today the connotation is a little different. It’s connected with so many horrible things that people do with guns and bullets. I don’t know. We’re considering it. We’ll make a decision this summer.”
A few thousand fan inspired name suggestions were slimmed down to five: Dragons, Express, Sea Dogs, Stallions, and Wizards. The Wizards, of course, won out, and for various reasons, fans–and everyday critics–showed their disapproval. Of course, looking back at that list, what else would really fit except for perhaps a Chinatown-inspired “Dragons” name?
Over the course of 2012-13, fans have been teased by the return of the Seattle Supersonics, but it’s clear now that the Sacramento Kings will remain in Sacramento. Perhaps largely under the radar was the fact that former Washington Wizards guard Michael Jordan was set on claiming the “Charlotte Hornets” name. In order to get it, New Orleans had to change, first.
What’s the first thing you think about when you think of New Orleans? Crawfish? Mardi Gras? Jambalaya? Left 4 Dead 2? Probably not the last one if you are above a certain age bracket, and probably not what New Orleans chose in “Pelicans.” Of course, how often would one think about pelicans? Perhaps as often as one might think about lakes in Los Angeles, California.
The Wizards began as the Chicago Packers in 1961. Not a great fit since the NFL’s Green Bay Packers claim that “Packers” name. The next one? The Chicago Zephyrs in 1962. Again, not the best fit, as Washington isn’t known for its wind (a zephyr is a mild breeze)–unless you want to make a political joke about the folks up on the hill. Next? The Baltimore Bullets.
Bullets was a name, unlike the “Lakers,” that could go anywhere and still fit. Zephyrs sounds nice enough, but it wasn’t a good fall back. Of course, fans and critics alike could go hours naming things. How are they taking the Pelicans name change? About as well as the Wizards name change in ’97.
Most die hard fans wanted an old New Orleans name in the “Jazz,” which Utah currently owns. The New Orleans Jazz played in Louisiana from 1974-1979 before moving to Utah, the farthest place from a center of Jazz you could get. Why the “Pelicans” name, then?
The nickname Hornets “didn’t mean anything to this community,” New Orleans owner Tom Benson said. “The pelican represents New Orleans, just like the Saints. They have incredible resolve. If they can do that, the team can do the same.”
The brown pelican is Louisiana’s state bird and has become identified with efforts to restore Louisiana’s coast, which has been damaged extensively by the 2010 BP oil spill and erosion from Katrina and other storms. Images of the pelicans covered with oil were plentiful after the oil spill.
So much for all of the old Hornets fans who followed their franchise to New Orleans only to have Jordan and the 2004 expansion team Bobcats take the name back to Charlotte in 2013. All in all, though, it’s a pretty interesting move. Imagine if the Washington Bullets became the Washington Bulls so Chicago could take the name Chicago Zephyrs. The chaos would never end.
At the very least, the Wizards are now included in a short list of modern name changes which are not going to be widely accepted, but for the sake of the Pelicans, at least their name is state-worthy and original. Will they play any better? Will the new Charlotte Hornets? Unlikely. Washington, on the other hand, has the third pick in the 2013 Draft. 2013-14 could finally mark a return to Playoffs basketball for the boys from Washington, whether you’re a Bullet Forever or a Wizards lifer.
What are your thoughts on the Pelicans name, and the Hornets switch? Leave your comments below.