So the other day I was enjoying an NBA game between the Brooklyn Nets and the suddenly relevant New York Knicks when it suddenly hit me: both teams’ names are utter nonsense.

First of all, calling a basketball team the “Nets” is akin to naming a baseball team the “Open Space” (again, nonsense) or the “Fair Balls” (okay, this would be funny). The net is—like open space or fair territory—simply where players want the ball to go. We’re all used to the name, which long predates the current iteration of the franchise in Brooklyn. But it’s sort of the most unimaginative name in sports hiding in plain sight. Why don’t we just call a soccer team “The Goals”?

And then there are the Knicks—and I’m willing to bet anyone reading this who isn’t a diehard fan or native New Yorker has barely ever bothered to think about where this name came from. Well, I’ll tell you, shall I? The Knicks are named for a sort of folksy city mascot named “Father Knickerbocker.”

This character may have been based on an early settler of the city, or it may have been a representative of New Yorkers in general—who in the 19th century were sometimes called Knickerbockers. And that term came from a Dutch word for people who bake clay marbles for children. Now, I don’t mean to denigrate the history. This is as I understand it is basically meant to represent the working class. And it’s actually really cool that there’s so much history behind this name. I can dig it. But a beloved NBA franchise being named for 19th-century clay marble makers is quite a stretch. Plus, you know… the term also came to refer to loose casual pants. So there’s that.

For whatever reason, my musings and research on these names distracted me almost completely from a really good basketball game. And of course, it got me thinking about other nonsensical names in modern pro sports. So just as you may have seen us cover “Sports That Make No Sense” in the past, I now present sports names that, similarly, make no freaking sense.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are a delightful sports franchise. They’re the pride of St. Louis, and the most successful team in baseball’s long history not named the Yankees. Any reasonable baseball fan will name them as a top club in the sport, and a list at The Top Tens even includes them among the top-10 franchises in all of sports. Plus, Cardinals? What a pleasant and different name for a powerful franchise.

The only issue is that it makes absolutely no sense. Cardinals are known primarily as birds of the Southeast and, more recently, Northeast and Canada. Seven states list the cardinal as their official state bird, and Missouri isn’t one of them. So why are they called the Cardinals? Apparently, because more than 100 years ago a fan proclaimed that their uniforms were a “lovely shade of cardinal.” Incidentally, before that, they were called The Perfectos!! Why, oh why did that fan share his oddly specific color observations?

Utah Jazz

I have to dip my toe back into the NBA to remark on the Utah Jazz. This franchise is so named for a perfectly logical reason. It was originally located in New Orleans where, you know… jazz is a thing. It’s not like this is wildly unreasonable. Except for the fact that Utah might be the least jazzy state in the U.S. This is a place known for posh ski getaways, national parks, and a high population of Mormons. Its most prominent politician is an extraordinarily buttoned-up ex-Bain Capital CEO who ran for president “as a businessman.” Its most popular musical genre is country.

All of these things are fine, and honestly Utah’s a sneakily lovely state. But most everything abut it comes across as distinctly un-jazzy. I have similar issues with the Los Angeles Lakers (who moved from Minnesota, where there are lakes) and the Memphis Grizzlies (who moved from Vancouver, where there are bears). But the Jazz playing in Utah is nonsense.

Las Vegas Golden Knights

You know what the most exciting expansion franchise in the last 30 years of American sports is? It’s the Las Vegas Golden Knights. First of all, it’s cool just to have a pro hockey team in freaking Las Vegas—let alone a beloved one. The team caught on instantly with local fans, to the point that a Poker.org piece on Vegas attractions recently cautioned that fans are so “all-in” it’s hard to get tickets. On top of all this though, the team damn near won the Stanley Cup in its first ever season, and has remained competitive since. I’m in. I get it. Go Vegas. Go Golden Knights.

But what is a Golden Knight? Seriously—have you ever heard of a Golden Knight? There are black knights, of course. There’s a big wild manifestation of nature known as the Green Knight in ancient British poetry/Arthurian lore. “White Knight” is a phrase used to describe a rescuer of some kind. There is even a Medieval Times dinner theater in Las Vegas where knights are identified by color, and there isn’t a gold one. Supposedly the name was picked because Nevada, um, produces a lot of gold. But basically they just invented a specific type of warrior that sounds like a thing and decidedly is not. That said, it sounds cool.

Washington Football Team

Okay, so I’m wrapping up my list with a pretty obvious selection. Picking the team name that isn’t actually a team name seems cheap. Furthermore, this non-name kind of grew on me during the 2020 season. It felt old school in an unusual, lightly amusing way. But I still cannot believe that after years of fending off demands to change an overtly racist name, Washington had no backup plan whatsoever. They seriously just didn’t come up with a name. That’s a thing that happened.

There are good options, too! Buzzfeed ranked contenders, and while they wound up suggesting “Football Team” is the best of the bunch, names like Redhawks, Red Tails, and even Red Hogs would be a lot of fun. These names have history, tradition, and unique sound on the pro sports landscape. I simply can’t believe Washington hasn’t made one of them work, and this makes “Washington Football Team” the most nonsensical name in American sports—even if I kind of like it.


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