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Ranking the NBA’s strangest team names


6. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have two of the game’s biggest faces in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and they’ve been one of the most fun watches for as long as they’ve been in Oklahoma. But NBA purists have long bemoaned their uninspired uniforms and team insignia, which seems focused on creating a sense of association so generic and non-regional that it couldn’t possibly offend anyone. They might as well be called the “Force,” the “Ballers,” or the “Sensations.” We like our squad names to be some sort of reflection of where the team resides, and the Thunder’s moniker falls well short of that mark.

5. Washington Wizards

Previously the Bullets, the nation’s capitol city team switched to something more politically correct nearly two decades ago, in 1997. While we’re all about non-violence and safe practices at Athlon, the “Wizards” tag is just as vague and lackluster as the Thunder. The franchise seems to have recognized its misstep with a gradual return to the color scheme and uniform design of the blue-and-red Bullets years, but they’re still walking around calling themselves something impotent and silly. Maybe D.C. native Kevin Durant can negotiate a return to the preferred title during his 2016 free agency…

4. Brooklyn Nets

What’s a net? It’s that piece of woven fabric — you know, the one that hangs from the rim. That makes enough sense. Why would anyone want to make this inert object their spirit metaphor, though? A lifeless assortment of string never struck fear into anyone’s heart, and it also certainly doesn’t give one a sense of home. The Nets’ mascot is the Brooklyn Knight — a seemingly randomly chosen character who provides further reminder that NYC’s second team is titled in a way so vague that it badly strains the imagination. The Nets have relocated and rebranded — perhaps now they need to rename themselves.

3. Toronto Raptors

Like many expansion teams before them, Toronto grasped at many a straw before landing on a franchise label. The most important factor in their choosing a kind of dinosaur? It was the popularity of everyone’s favorite 1990s Steven Spielberg thriller, Jurassic Park. “Raptors” isn’t exactly a bad name — just a fairly arbitrary one. Hardcore NBA followers have recently taken to calling them “The Drakes,” in reference to their collaboration with the famous Canadian rapper. I, for one, welcome the more culturally relevant shift.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

Strange doesn’t have to mean bad. We couldn’t possibly call Kobe, Magic, or James Worthy anything but Lakers — L.A.’s purple-and-gold-laden nickname has become more than indelible over the years. But a bit of context has some scratching their heads; there aren’t, as you may have noticed, a whole lot of lakes in Los Angeles. “The Oceaners” might make sense for them, geography-wise. But this team originally hails from the land of ten-thousand lakes — Minnesota — and has made a very permanent mark on an otherwise senseless handle.

1. Utah Jazz

Like the Lakers, Salt Lake City’s team has a name that essentially describes what its surrounding area isn’t. Not only is the largely Mormon state of Utah a pretty jazzless place, but the history of their basketball identity is almost the opposite of flashy. When they were a New Orleans squad featuring the entrancing Pete Maravich, the Jazz were the veritable saxophone of the league. But Karl Malone and John Stockton’s heyday were more about rote, blue-collar execution than style. There’s no changing this one, though — the paradox that is the Utah Jazz title has become far too endearing over the decades.

— John Wilmes


— John Wilmes