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Original Issue


A curse on teams with names you can't cheer for

The Arena Football League would like to announce that one of its six teams this year is called the Detroit Drive. I would like to announce that I'm about to scream.

Save us. Another "theme" nickname. Another nickname that cannot be pluralized. Another nickname that sounds as if it were thought up by some eight-member Madison Avenue committee over baby-quail pizza. Another nickname that looks spiffy on a letterhead but is useless to the rest of us:

"Hey, Mom, someday I'm gonna be a Drive."

"Not till you're 16, you're not."

This is the latest version of a bad idea first foisted on the nation by the World Football League (Chicago Fire, Portland Storm, etc.), then exhumed and, we had hoped, exhausted by the USFL (Denver Gold and Chicago Blitz). If you were a Chicago Blitz fan and you wanted to cheer just one player, what were you supposed to say, "Go, you Blit!"

Academia, which should know better, even got into this sort of thing a few years ago when Stanford decided to stop calling its athletic teams the Cardinals in favor of the Cardinal, as in the color. With a capital C. And we're doing the masseur's room entirely in Cardinal. Sounds like something the student yacht club dreamed up while Winston was bringing the car around.

But it took the NBA, which is the Hall of Fame of Dumb Names, to carry this business to its most wretched extreme when it announced the names of its four newest franchises. You can always count on the NBA—the league that brings you Draft Lotto—to deliver. One of the new names is fine: the Minnesota Timberwolves. Different. Sturdy. Indigenous. One is so-so: the Charlotte Hornets. You have to wonder how many people will put down their beers and do the Wave for an insect.

Then there's the Miami Heat. Whoever came up with this baby probably liked Don Johnson's last album. What will be the logo for the Heat? A fat man sweating on a front porch? Two dogs panting wildly? An industrial-sized blowtorch?

The Miami Chamber of Commerce must be thrilled. Calling a Miami team the Heat is like calling an Anchorage team the Bitter Freezing Temperature. Why in the world would you want to remind people that your city gets oppressively hot? Perhaps this is some kind of new p.r. tactic I haven't heard about.

And besides, the name Heat doesn't travel so well. You walk into some parts of Miami and announce, "Here comes the Heat," and two thirds of the population assumes the frisk position, and the other third starts swallowing things.

And what is one Heat called? Oh, Monica. You 'II never believe it. I met the cutest guy. He says he's a Hot.

This isn't the first odious name the NBA has dug up. No, the NBA is to naming teams what Frank (Just Call My Kids Moon Unit. Diva, Dweezil and Ahmet Rodan) Zappa is to naming offspring. There's the New Jersey Nets, which is fine, I guess, if you're into inanimate objects. Though I still don't know why you would want to christen your franchise after a $2 web of nylon.

The most blatant example; of course, is the Utah Jazz, an oxymoron to rival George Carlin's favorite appetizer, jumbo shrimp. I like Utah, but the closest thing to jazz I have ever heard there was a Jimmy Osmond tape being eaten by a tape deck. If you can have a team called the Utah Jazz, you can have a team called the Fort Worth Knishes.

Another oddity is the Los Angeles Lakers. There may be 10 lakes in all of Southern California. The name is a carryover from the days when the Lakers played in Minneapolis, where it made sense. Same as the Jazz made sense in New Orleans. Frank Layden, the Jazz coach, has a way to fix all this. Look, he says, there's not much jazz in Utah, but it does have the Great Salt Lake. There's a shortage of lakes in L.A., but the place is lousy with jazz. Says Layden, "How 'bout if they switch?" Have a knish, Frank.

Still, the alltime worst name is that of the fourth new NBA team, the Orlando Magic. This is a name somebody must have pulled out of a hat. This is a name some CEO's son might have handed down in his first memo. The Orlando Magic. What do they do for pregame inspiration, have Uri Geller come in and bend a spoon with his mind? What will they wear on their uniforms, E.T. on a bike? This name is so bad it's almost good.

Abbott: I play for the Magic.

Costello: Yeah, I hear he's a great guy.

Abbott: No, no. I don't play for him, idiot. I play here. I play for us.

Costello: I know. Jerry Buss.

Abbott: No, no. Magic is a team.

Costello: You're telling me. Did you see him against Boston?

Abbott: Oh, forget it. You've been getting too much heat.

Costello: Yeah? Are they in town tonight?