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The Anatomy Of Team Names and Logos: Putting Locals First

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Local cultures influence our relationship to our favorite regional teams. Some thoughts on what makes a great team name and logo and why we love them more than others.

You would think that the Anthony Morrow's unveiling of their new home uniforms, a modernized throwback to happier and more successful eras of Golden State Warriors history, would have calmed fans already distressed by the organizations draft prospects and uneasy future.


It seems that most Warriors fans were happy about the return to the iconic symbols of the bay area such as our bridges and the image of the state of California for the alternate logos. A return to the historical royal blue and California gold was also appreciated by fans for its respect for the Warriors' local history. But beyond these nods to the Warriors past, fans, myself included, were both upset by not only the strange font choice but also the poor flip of what is considered by many media outlets one of the most classic sports logos of all-time.

What the Warriors did with their "new-old" logo definitely shows the challenges of crafting a symbol that adequately reflects the tenuous balance of respecting the past while projecting a new image of the "future" that gives the team a fresh start and new hope. Aesthetics aside, the controversy around logos and even team names, like what we witnessed with the Warriors, has exposed how history plays an important role in how fans engage not only with sports but identify themselves with the places where they both live and work.

While the "Warriors" name is a controversial homage to indigenous tribes in the United States, what fans seem to love the most is the reflection of themselves in the landscape of the bridge (and even the cable car on the back). The fun portrayals of Bay Area life in the context of transportation is somewhat ironic given how much Californians hate traffic (and how much people outside of California hate California traffic without even being exposed to it). It seems that most great team names of professional sports rely on local and idiosyncratic cultural phenomenon as ways to distinguish their local awesomeness.

Take for instance the Kansas City Royals. The Royals team name originates from the "American Royal," a livestock show, horse show, and rodeo, originating in 1899 in Kansas City that is still going on today. Or what about the SuperSonics of Seattle? Boeing, local to Seattle and builder of commercial and military defense airplanes, received a contract with government support to work on a project titled SST (supersonic transport) meant to create high-speed commercial airplanes. And we all know about the Dodgers. I know they are one of the most hated teams along with their basketball counterpart, the Lakers, by us Northern California sports fans. But you have to admit that their team names speak to the very specific places of their origin. The idea that "Dodgers" comes, in part, from people dodging trolley cars is almost as hilarious as the idea that a very friendly cable car blazing down one of many of San Francisco's steep hills can be what us as bay area residents find to be representative of who we are.

And that in there lies what I seem to gather is what team names and their logos SHOULD be about. It's the little things about where we live that helps us fans locate ourselves with our teams. The idiosyncratic aspects of our lives are what people come to associate with what it is to be part of your hometown. The sudden mid-to-late nineties trend of aggressive animals or creatures -- a Raptor, a Grizzly, a Timberwolf, a Panther, and a "Thunder" -- was an anomaly to the seemingly mundane nature of logos and names up until then. Interestingly, the Grizzly and Timberwolf are both animals that are native to their respective regions. But they also had to connote some sense of danger and strength, which we didn't necessarily see before. If people are clearly happy with naming themselves based on the amazing American music scenes (The Jazz) or the local industry (The PistonsThe Pacers --for the history of racing ‘pace cars'), what was professional sports thinking during that juncture in time especially when representations of violence in popular culture (hip-hop) were being debated in court and publicly blasted on talk shows?

The muscle bound Thunder had similar effects on Warriors fans. "What exactly is a Thunder" is what my friends and I asked. How did he exactly reflect the bay area? We don't even get thunder here in the bay area when the weather gets bad! And while Thunder was a likeable character, fans were confused by his relationship to the bay area. With the Chris Cohan-era nearly over (cross your fingers) and the near-complete dismantling of the only positive memory of this uni's generation, the "We-Believe" Warriors, a return to the roots was probably in the best interest of the Warriors as a business, exploiting the nostalgia of its fans to keep us sucked into an often more than not lousy product.

But for us fans, that logo and name has as much to do with our sports as it does for our love for where we live. Like the San Francisco Giants (otherwise once known as the "Gothams" when they were in New York), the Warriors' past logos and colors schemes emphasize particularly regionally-specific sentiments of what it means to be part of that city and region.  Also, it definitely says something when "The City" logo might be one of the most bootlegged logos ever and a symbol that non-basketball fans will rock on the regular as emblematic of their bay-ness.  And while carnivorous predatory animals like "Sharks" may be "local" to this region of the Pacific Ocean, it hardly enters in the daily imagination of how people in San Jose live. Unless the descriptives that the Shark's first marketing head, Matt Levine, said of "Sharks" ("relentless, determined, swift, agile, bright and fearless") was meant to describe the work life of engineers and other Silicon Valley CEOS, then I'm completely lost on why Sharks would be fitting for this region.

It's time to ditch the names that try too hard to sound tough. It's not as if team names define how a team is going to play nor it's reputation to the rest of the league. It's time to bring the fun back into sports by bringing more local cultures to the forefront. And this starts by putting the personality and lifestyles of the regions fans first.