Quick: How many grizzly bears are there in and around Memphis?
Discounting zoos, my guess would be zero. Yet there is a professional basketball team called the Memphis Grizzlies.
Figure that one out. Apparently the NBA has not given the matter a great deal of thought. It made good sense to name the old Vancouver franchise the Grizzlies, considering the wilds of British Columbia. But Memphis, the hometown of America’s lord and savior, who is coming again if he is not already not dead? Lots of possibilities for an appropriate name there. Fans of Memphis, rise up! DJs of that riverboat town, sponsor contests!
Yes, my critics, I can see your letters. “How many bears are there in Chicago?” My answer: Fifty-three, not including the taxi squad. Besides, who can put “football” and “Chicago” in the same sentence and not instantly think Bears? One does not think Maroons, the eccentric nickname of the University of Chicago athletes. One thinks, and I repeat, Bears. Case closed.
It is an odd thing, the naming of sports teams. Odd when they are formed, odder when they change their names but stay put, oddest when they retain their names while moving to another city that has built a finer stadium or sports complex as a come-hither.
New York Jets. Any city with a large airport can lay claim to that plural noun. New Jersey Nets. Any basketball team, etc. How clever: Jets and Nets. When Las Vegas obtains its first NBA team, I lay significant odds that it will be the Vegas Bets.
Then there is the category of teams changing their monikers for ethical reasons. Stanford comes to mind. “Indians” became “the Cardinal.” Palo Alto must have a single member of that species of bird flying around. That’s the first point. The second point is this: how many people are there outside of universities who object to naming a team the “Indians”? A friend of mine is an Indian chief in Oklahoma; he uses the term with abandon, even in the politest of conversations. He reads Tocqueville. He gathers the tribe for powwows. Not “Native American” powwows. Indian powwows.
And now the oddest case in captivity: the Los Angeles Lakers. Lots of lakes in and around Minneapolis, where the team originated. Guess how many in L.A., which seduced them?
One. But only if you count the Brea Tar Pits, which is about the size of a large putting green and is said to contain fossils of mammoths and sabertoothed cats.
Attention, local DJs: sponsor a contest to rename this team. Mammoths? Cats? Tar Pits? Or maybe just the Pits.