Let's be honest. The only grizzly bear within 500 miles of here is in the Memphis Zoo. And I'm sure there's some hip jazz bands in Provo, but no great be-bop giant ever came from Utah. So, the Utah Jazz should give New Orleans its team name back, only New Orleans is now using the old Charlotte nickname, the Hornets. Everyone knows that the Packers are in Green Bay, the Bears are in Chicago, and the Colts are in Baltimore. Only, they're not. We've got Cardinals in Arizona, Rams in St. Louis, and Colts in Indiana, and the names are all mismatched to the locale. Instead of franchises moving around, I propose a trade of a different sort. Let's have a one-day, giant name swap and return all sports team names to the places where they have meaning.
Memphis would be better served by being known as the Kings, for MLK, B.B., and Elvis. The problem is, Sacramento is using that name. What king is from Sacramento? Larry King? Let's swap names. Memphis gets the Kings, and a grizzly bear is featured on the California state flag. Perfect.
It was a sad day in 1957 when two fabled New York baseball franchises packed up and split for the West Coast, leaving the palaces where Duke Snider and Willie Mays roamed the outfields as rubble for the wrecking ball. The Dodgers' and Giants' move to California was, for many, the first generational lesson in hardball capitalism. It raised the question of what's more valuable: free enterprise or fan loyalty and trust. Still today, there are wounded men walking the boroughs of New York in tears, wearing faded, old baseball caps, mumbling, "What happened to my team?"
The New York teams' move west was also the first example of corporate greed entering pro sports. But when some greedy bastard sees greener pastures and decides to relocate a beloved sports franchise with emotional roots to a community, at least have the decency to change the name. Imagine Boston's hoops team moving to Salt Lake City and calling themselves the Utah Celtics. Finding a Celt in Utah is as rare as finding a Mormon pimp. When the Washington Senators moved to Minnesota, they changed their name to the Twins. Since Indianapolis is not known for horses, give Baltimore their Colts back, retire the morbid name Ravens, and rename the Indianapolis football team the Racers. It rhymes so well with Pacers.
Some regulations will be necessary. After all, we don't want the Baltimore Orioles returning to St. Louis to become the Brown Stockings. So some locations get to remain as they are. The Milwaukee Brewers now have a descriptive name preferable to their old one. Atlanta has no business, however, naming their baseball club the Braves when their stadium sits on what once was Indian territory. So, Atlanta must drop the "tomahawk chop" and return to the team name they used until the early '60s, the Crackers. In football, St. Louis gets to reclaim their Cardinals from Arizona. Only they must first return the name Rams to Los Angeles, so that city can have their team back. Arizona is then free to choose a new moniker. Since their governor is Jan Brewer, I recommend the Haints. But the Rattlers would fit well with the baseball Diamondbacks. The Haints, however, might go well with the New Orleans Saints. But Jazz is synonymous with the Crescent City, so return the name to its proper place and then Utah can become the White Polygamists. It's sort of like the Crimson Tide, only kinkier.
Finally, give the Lakers back to Minnesota and retire the silly Timberwolves name. L.A. can become the Stars, like they were in the old ABA. Charlotte can then reclaim their Hornets from New Orleans and put the Bobcat mascot in play. Maybe Utah has bobcats. When fans get back their traditional mascots, everyone will be happy, and there's nothing so pliable as a happy customer next time they decide to raise ticket prices.
It's curious that some of the most durable teams are located in the most economically distressed areas. That's because they have owners with a stake in the community and are aware of longtime fan loyalty. The Rooney family has owned the Pittsburgh Steelers since the NFL's inception. Founder Dan was known for his generosity, and son Art developed the Rooney Rule, which says any NFL team with a coaching or managerial vacancy must interview a minority candidate. "Papa Bear" George Halas both coached for and owned the Chicago Bears. Born in Chicago, Halas was noted for his philanthropy. The Packers have the only publicly owned franchise in pro sports, with over 100,000 Green Bay fans holding stock in the team. When the Packers leap into the stands after a touchdown, they're just saying hello to the boss.
But corporate money has corrupted sports. Where teams once played their games in Veterans Stadium, the Polo Grounds, and Soldier Field, they're now in Qualcomm Park, MetLife Stadium, and Bank of America Stadium. Corporations are so fond of splashing their name on every sports edifice in the nation. Here's a thought: Spend some of that tax-exempt cash putting your names on hospitals, schools, and colleges, rather than just college bowl games.
Finally, a word to the Grizzlies front office. I've said this before but in vain, so permit me to say this once again, only louder. You are wasting an opportunity to promote Memphis' most famous export: music. The formulaic techno music used throughout the league is not inspiring, it's annoying. Imagine the excitement if the team enters the arena to the sound of the Bar-Kays' "Soul Finger." Rather than "We Will Rock You," picture the crowds' response to the opening two chords of "Jailhouse Rock." And after a Grizzlies rally, the audience might enjoy a bit of Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On." You have everyone from Carl Perkins to Three 6 Mafia to choose from.
Sam Phillips once said, "If you're not doing something different, then you're not doing anything." You Grizzlies execs aren't in Vancouver. You're in the town of visionaries like Sam Phillips and Dewey Phillips. So, like the man also said, "Let's get hot, or go home!" Randy Haspel writes the blog "Born-Again Hippies," where a version of this column first appeared.
The rain is coming down, slow and persistent from a low gray sky. It soaks the grass, fills the gutters, and falls hard on the flowers left on the Beale Street sidewalk outside of B.B. King's club ...