Last night, the group that owns the Seattle SuperSonics announced its intention to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City. Although Seattle certainly would lament losing its basketball team, Oklahoma City did show itself deserving of an NBA team through its rabid support of the New Orleans Hornets during the two seasons that team played in Oklahoma after Hurricane Katrina.
If the Sonics move to Oklahoma City, the main question I'll have is what the name of the team will be.
The Sonics began in 1966 and were named after the Boeing 2707 airplane, a supersonic plane to be built in Seattle to compete with the European-made Concorde. Environmental concerns and federal budget cuts led to the cancellation of the Boeing 2707 in 1971, before a single plane was manufactured. Thus, the Seattle SuperSonics are named after a plane that was never manufactured. [If other cities followed this example and had sports teams named after things that were never built, I guess we'd have the Chicago Mile-High Buildings and the New York Expressways (or, arguably, the Cathedrals).]
So what are the Sonics going to do with a name that is only relevant if it is in Seattle? Well, they've got a number of examples to follow.
The Region-less Name
First, most relocated franchises aren't in the position of the Sonics. It's not too confusing when the aforementioned Hornets decide to retain their moniker after moving from Charlotte to New Orleans, since no one exclusively associates flying pests with North Carolina. In baseball, the Athletics have marched from Philadelphia to Kansas City to Oakland and (it appears) now to Fremont without changing their name.
The Abandoned Regional Name
If the Sonics dump their current name, they'll follow in the footsteps of the former Houston Oilers.
Before they rebranded their team the Tennessee Titans, the former Houston Oilers played one season as the Tennessee Oilers. Although this franchise (quite bitterly) held onto the rights to the name "Houston Oilers" (preventing Houston from following in the footsteps of Cleveland and returning the Houston Oilers to the field down the road), they escaped to a different (if not more relevant) name the next season.
The Retained Regional Name
If the Sonics retain their current name, they'll join a strange group of teams whose names hearken back to an abandoned geography.
Two of these regionally confused teams are in Los Angeles. What are the Los Angeles Dodgers dodging? Trolleys in 19th century Brooklyn, of course. What lakes are the Los Angeles Lakers talking about? Well, that'd be the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota, back when they were the Minneapolis Lakers.
Finally, the gem of relocated franchise names: What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Utah? Jazz music, perhaps? Mormons in Utah get to swing because the Utah Jazz played five seasons as the New Orleans Jazz before moving to Salt Lake City in 1979.
So what'll it be, Oklahoma City? Are you keeping the Sonics – and with it a Seattle-centric reference to a plane that was never built – or are you going in a different direction?
My advice? Go with a truth-in-advertising name. Giants, Titans, Chargers — these mythic names are generic, for all their braggadocio. I like my teams named after an occupation that is associated with the region: Packers, Steelers, Brewers. (I guess gambling on this theme is what got the Sonics in trouble.)
Since Oklahoma City is home to two of the nation's largest energy companies, how about a name along those lines:
- The Oklahoma City Drillers or Oklahoma City Pumpers (probably too much playground taunting with these two)
- The Oklahoma City Carbon (a name Al Gore would love)
- The Oklahoma City Wranglers (too close to Cowboys?)