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Exploring the Origins and Meanings Behind NBA Team Names

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Eastern Conference - Atlantic Division:

  • Boston Celtics: Named to honor the large Irish population in Boston and their cultural connection to Ireland.

  • Brooklyn Nets: Named for the "net" used in basketball.

  • New York Knicks: Short for "Knickerbockers," a term used to describe early Dutch settlers in New York.

  • Philadelphia 76ers: Named to honor the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in 1776.

  • Toronto Raptors: Named after the velociraptor, a reference to the popularity of the "Jurassic Park" film franchise during the team's founding.

Eastern Conference - Central Division:

  • Chicago Bulls: Named in reference to the Chicago Union Stockyards.

  • Cleveland Cavaliers: Named to honor Ohio's history in the American Civil War.

  • Detroit Pistons: Named for Detroit's strong automotive history.

  • Indiana Pacers: Reflects Indiana's rich history of harness racing.

  • Milwaukee Bucks: Named for the white-tailed deer, which is abundant in Wisconsin.

Eastern Conference - Southeast Division:

  • Atlanta Hawks: Named for the bird of prey, symbolizing speed and agility.

  • Charlotte Hornets: Named to honor the city's history as a hub for British loyalists during the American Revolution.

  • Miami Heat: Reflects the hot climate in Miami.

  • Orlando Magic: Named to reflect the magical and whimsical nature of the entertainment industry in Orlando.

  • Washington Wizards: Originally the Washington Bullets, the name was changed to avoid associations with gun violence and crime. The name depicts energy and an omnipresent power, and brings to light what is hoped to be the wise and magical nature of the team.

Western Conference - Northwest Division:

  • Denver Nuggets: Named for the discovery of gold in the Colorado mountains.

  • Minnesota Timberwolves: Named for the wolf, which is the state animal of Minnesota.

  • Oklahoma City Thunder: Reflects the frequent thunderstorms in Oklahoma.

  • Portland Trail Blazers: Named for the pioneers who blazed a trail through the Oregon wilderness.

  • Utah Jazz: Originally from New Orleans, the name reflects the city's rich musical culture, even though it no longer entirely fits the state of Utah.

Western Conference - Pacific Division:

  • Golden State Warriors: Reflects the golden state of California and the team's history in San Francisco and Oakland.

  • Los Angeles Clippers: Originally from Buffalo, New York, and named for the sailing vessels on Lake Erie.

  • Los Angeles Lakers: Originally from Minneapolis, the name reflects the state's many lakes.

  • Phoenix Suns: Named for the sunny climate in Phoenix, Arizona.

  • Sacramento Kings: Named for the "Kings" as a term of royalty and prestige.

Western Conference - Southwest Division:

  • Dallas Mavericks: Reflects the independent and free-spirited nature of Dallas.

  • Houston Rockets: Named to honor the city's role in the space industry.

  • Memphis Grizzlies: Named for the grizzly bear, a symbol of the region's wilderness.

  • New Orleans Pelicans: Reflects the state bird of Louisiana, the brown pelican.

  • San Antonio Spurs: Named for the cowboy boots and spurs often associated with Texas.

NBA.com has more information on most teams - examples include Lakers, Bulls, and Warriors.


Check out the other sport name rationale:


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