The NBA has a disproportionate number of teams with a name unrelated to their current city:
1. The Utah Jazz used to be the New Orleans Jazz.
The first NBA team based in New Orleans was named the Jazz, after their well-known, lively music scene.
The Jazz played their first five seasons in New Orleans, moving to Utah in 1979. The decision to keep a name so specific to the city of New Orleans was met with controversy, but the moniker remained.
2. The New Orleans Hornets used to be the Charlotte Hornets.
Charlotte’s team name was inspired by the city’s resistance efforts in the Revolutionary War, which were referred to as a “veritable nest of hornets” by a British commander.
Though the team was originally named for a metaphor specific to the city of Charlotte, New Orleans decided to keep the inherited name for ten years after the move. When 2012 efforts to take the name “Jazz” back from Utah after 30 years proved to be futile, the team settled on the Pelicans, the state bird of Louisiana.
3. The Detroit Pistons used to be the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons.
The Pistons franchise, formed in 1941 by Fred Zollner, owner of an auto engine part plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was not an intentional nod to the automotive capital of the world.
Though “Pistons” is obviously a tremendous fit for the Detroit-based NBA team, the franchise did spend 16 years playing in Indiana under the same moniker. Zollner’s surname was dropped from the name in 1948, while the team was still in Indiana. The team kept the name following their 1957 move, but changed the logo to an early version of the one used to represent the team today.
4. The Houston Rockets used to be the San Diego Rockets.
The Rockets were named after the Atlas missile, deployed from San Diego in 1958.
Houston is much more renowned for their aerospace industry than San Diego, where the team played their first four seasons. Like the Detroit Pistons, there seemed to be no need to rename the team in 1971.
5. The Los Angeles Clippers used to be the San Diego Clippers.
San Diego’s second NBA team was named the Clippers, a reference to the ships that sailed through the San Diego Bay.
The franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1984, keeping the name and forming the Clippers we’ve come to know today. The name doesn’t really have anything to do with L.A. and San Diego has now been without an NBA team for thirty years.
6. The Los Angeles Lakers used to be the Minneapolis Lakers.
Minneapolis, Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes, hosted the NBA team from 1947-1960.
Los Angeles, unlike Minneapolis, is not known for a large number of bodies of water. Upon relocating in 1960, the Lakers became the first West Coast NBA team. The team has now played over fifty seasons as the Los Angeles Lakers.
7. The Memphis Grizzlies used to be the Vancouver Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies played their first six seasons in Vancouver, which is still home to part of the declining grizzly bear population.
The Grizzlies played in Vancouver from 1995–2001, before heading to the U.S. to give Memphis their only major professional sports team. True North American grizzlies are mostly found in Alaska and Canada. There are black bears in Tennessee, but there are certainly no grizzlies. The team is in its thirteenth season, and probably not likely to undergo a major rebranding, but the Memphis Bears would just be more accurate.
Seven relocated NHL franchises are still active, with only two retaining their original names.
8. The Calgary Flames used to be the Atlanta Flames.
The Atlanta Flames were named for the Battle of Atlanta during the American Civil War, a significant victory for the Union after which William T. Sherman ordered military and government buildings to be burned.
After 8 years in Atlanta, the Flames moved to Calgary in 1980. One may note that Canada did not participate in the American Civil War. However, Calgary has a sizable oil industry, so the team name was determined to still be relevant and was left unchanged.
9. The Dallas Stars used to be the Minnesota North Stars.
The Minnesota North Stars were named for the state motto, “L’Étoile du Nord,” and spent 26 years in Minnesota before moving to Texas, the Lone Star State.
The Minnesota North Stars played in Bloomington MN, just outside of Minneapolis, from 1967-1993. The team hit a bad slump in the mid-eighties, and the team dropped “North” from the name in 1991, which many feared was in anticipation of a relocation. This assessment proved correct when the team announced they’d be based in Dallas, Texas for the 1993-1994 season on.
MLB teams have typically changed their regional-specific names upon relocation, with two notorious rivals as exceptions.
10. The Los Angeles Dodgers used to be the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Brooklyn was once served by a vast streetcar network, causing Manhattanites to mockingly refer to Brooklynites as “trolley dodgers”.
The Brooklyn baseball club cycled through a handful of names before settling on “Dodgers”. It was a curious choice to name the team for a pejorative, but even stranger was the decision to keep the irrelevant name after moving the team to Los Angeles in 1957.
11. The San Francisco Giants used to be the New York Giants.
The baseball New York Giants chose the moniker in 1885, after the team’s manager referred to players as giants after a particularly impressive victory over the Philadelphia Athletics.
The baseball Giants chose their team name 40 years prior to the formation of the football New York Giants. New Yorkers had the convenience of their teams sharing a name until the baseball Giants left for San Francisco in 1957. The Giants did not enjoy a “giant” World Series win in San Francisco until 2010.
The NFL’s two strongest examples of out of place names occurred fairly recently, with lasting notoriety.
12. The Indianapolis Colts used to be the Baltimore Colts.
The Baltimore incarnation of the team chose their name to reflect the city’s prominent history of horse racing.
The shuffling of the Baltimore and Indianapolis teams has welcomed much attention and tension in recent history. Horse racing is certainly not as prominent in Indianapolis as it is in Baltimore. The team retained their logo and name when they famously left Baltimore after 30 years.
13. The Tennessee Oilers/Titans used to be the Houston Oilers.
The Houston Oilers were named by original owner, Bud Adams, an oil magnate who decided to change the name in 1999 to better reflect their new home of Tennessee.
The renaming of the Tennessee football team to better reflect qualities unique to Tennessee sets a good example of how teams might better rebrand after a move. The team kept “Oilers” as their name for one year after their move to Tennessee, during which they were temporarily located in Memphis. In 1998, Bud Adams formed a naming committee and the “Titans” was chosen for their inaugural season in Nashville.