The word is that Michael Jordan, the new owner of the NBA's Charlotte franchise is considering changing the team's moniker. The Bobcats have been a forelorn club, until this season when they won more games than they lost and made it into the playoff tournament. Jordan, a king in the world of sports marketing, understands that fans might relate better to a different name. Whenever I see the Bobcast mentioned, I think back to my days in the Cub Scouts, when a bobcat badge was the first level of performance achieved mainly by living long enough within the ranks.
Cubs spend millions of dollars finding the right name under which to sell their entertainment to the public. Normally, they select some ferocious animal with a logo that suggests it will devour the opposition, not merely best them in a sports contest. Lions and tigers and bears fit this bill well. Cubs, while potentially bears, appears a fitting name for a franchise that has not won the World Series in over a century. Cubs are cuddly, not ferocious.
Only a few professional franchises have changed their nicknames without changing their location. Some have carried their old nicknames to places where they do not fit. You do not normally associate jazz with Salt Lake City, a metropolis always under control, especially when compared with the carefree New Orleans from whence the team came. The Washington basketball club changed its name from the Bullets to the Wizards. It was not a good idea to keep the reference to ammunition in a city that works hard to control the possession and use of firearms.
Colleges regularly change their mascots to rejuvenate their athletic programs. It is easier than recruiting a winning sports team. Mascots also do not have to be paid their tuition, room, board and books. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, in what was the Association's singular effort to erase racial insensitivity from the college sports arena, banned names and logos that depicted First Nation tribes and individuals unless the names were approved by local Indian governments. The last holdout, the University of North Dakota, finally agreed to end the Fighting Sioux appellation, although we can expect continued skirmishing in Grand Forks.
Some colleges have maintained strange nicknames and mascots. Many we have become used to, like the Boilermakers, Hoyas, Lobos and Tar Heels. Some are just weird. Scottsdale Community College proudly cheers for the "Fighting Artichokes." (They must be a real favorite among vegetarian fans.) The teams of the University of California at Santa Cruz are led by the Banana Slugs. Many nicknames are unique. The folks at Heidelberg University in Ohio make Sigmund Romberg proud by proclaiming themselves the "Student Princes."
There is good reason to try to be distinctive, if not unique. Northeastern University has long been the Huskies, as have the University of Connecticut, the University of Washington, Michigan Tech, Keyano College, St. Cloud State, East Los Angeles College, University of Southern Maine, Bloomberg University of Pennsylvania, and Northern illlinois, among others. Huskies are friendly, rugged dogs, known for their endurance, but it is confusing when the Boston Globe runs a sports story with the headline "Huskies Win!" Which Huskies?
A mascot can send the wrong message. Would you fear an athletic contest against the Whitter Poets? Will they dazzle you with their un-rhyming iambic pentameter? How about the Southern Arkansas at Monticello Bollweevils? Will they spoil your crops if you don't lay down your arms? There is lots of undergraduate humor involved in the mascot selected by the Rhode Island School of Design. They are known as the Nads, and so the entire student body can rise up in unison and cheer: "Go Nads!" North Carolina School of the Arts will not be outdone. They proudly root for the "Fighting Pickles."
Michael Jordan's basketball team is unlikely to select any of these mascots. Whatever name is picked, it will undoubtedly be shortened by the fans. Finally, the Tampa baseball faithful had their way and the Devil Rays shouted out the Devil part. Immediately, the club became very good. That should inspire Mr. Jordan. The only other idea that might work is for the Great One himself to lace on the sneakers and try his hand once again on the court. My guess is that he can still take half the NBA in one-on-one.