One of the things that has always confused me about professional basketball, and sports in general, is mascots. I get their supposed role; firing up the crowd, entertaining during breaks in play, high-fiving kids. The thing that is confusing is how often the mascots appear to be chosen out of a hat, with little or no connection to the nickname of the team. Some make sense, like the Leprechaun of Notre Dame, and the actual bulldog that the Georgia Bulldogs bring to games. Other’s just baffle me, for example the Standford Cardinals who’s mascot is a tree.
Using a high tech statistical model, the details of which I am not at liberty to disclose, I ran a series of correlations between the nicknames of NBA teams and their mascots. The results and analysis are below.
1. Atlanta Hawks – Harry the Hawk – Correlation: 1.00
The team is called the Hawks. The mascot is a Hawk. Makes sense.
Celtic refers either to an actual ethnic group native to the British Isles, or the language spoken by that ethnic group. Leprechauns are mythical creatures part of the cultural tradition of Ireland, a component of the British Isles. Although seperated by time and reality, at least Celtics and Leprechauns share a common region of origin.
3. Charlotte Bobcats – Rufus D. Lynx – Correlation: 0.85
The Lynx refers to a genus of felines, of which there are four species, one of which is the Bobcat. The other three species (Canadian Lynx, Eurasian Lynx, Iberian Lynx) are commonly referred to by the name Lynx. So the Bobcats either chose to name their mascot after the genus of their nickname, or chose a different species altogether. Give the Bobcats some credit though, Rufus D. Bobcat just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
4. Chicago Bulls – Benny the Bull – Correlation: 1.00
This was obviously the inspiration for Harry the Hawk. A sense of the literal wins again.
With the strong historical connection between Northern Ohio and the mounted soldiers of the 1642 English Civil War, Cleveland naturally settled on Cavalier as the nickname for their basketball team. To go along with their mounted military theme they chose some sort of mastiff as their mascot. The small correlation comes from the fact that Moondog could theoritically be saddled and ridden into battle should the need arise.
A Maverick refers to a wild or feral, unbranded animal such as a horse or cow. Champ is horse, so Dallas got the right species, but Champ is relatively well behaved and doesn’t display any of the ferocious unpredictability one would expect from keeping a feral horse inside a crowded arena.
Nuggets is a reference to gold nuggets, which I am told can be found in them thar hills around Denver. Mountain lions can also be found in the peaks of the Rockies. Another case of unrelated items connected only by a similar physical location.
My understanding is that the Pistons take their name from the engine part as an homage to the relationship between the city of Detroit and General Motors. Choosing a horse as a mascot would appear to be the polar opposite, in a transportation sense, to any vehicle powered by pistons. This is a slap in the face to the American automotive industry.
9. Golden State Warriors – Thunder – Correlation: 0.04
The Warriors’ mascot, Thunder, appears to be a humanoid incarnation of the elemental force from which it takes it’s name. Thunder certainly has the physical tools to be a capable Warrior, but appears to be a complete pacifist, thus the low correlation.
10. Houston Rockets – Clutch the Bear – Correlation: 0.00
My statistical model didn’t account for all the bears who ride around in rockets and ended up with a correlation of 0.00. I will definitely need to make some adjustments.
11. Indiana Pacers – Boomer the Panther – Correlation: 0.05
Obviously short on ideas, the Pacers choose alliteration as their guiding principal in choosing a mascot. That being said I prefer a panther to a peanut, pickle or pig.
12. Los Angeles Clippers – No Mascot – Correlation: NA
Mascot costumes cost money. Donald Sterling owns the Clippers. Donald Sterling is cheap, ergo, no mascot.
13. Los Angeles Lakers – No Mascot – Correlation: NA
The Lakers are currently without a mascot. They have been unable to find a satisfactory replacement for Mark Madsen.
14. Memphis Grizzlies – Grizz – Correlation: 1.00
Memphis, famous for their Grizzly Bears, kept the nickname and mascot when the team moved from Vancouver. Memphis, the City of Imagination!
15. Miami Heat – Burnie – Correlation: 0.88
The Miami Heat are represented by Burnie who I believe to be a phoenix. The Phoenix is a mythical fire spirit, which would generate heat! Every 500 to 1000 the Phoenix lights it’s nest on fire consuming the nest and itself and a new baby Phoenix rises from the ashes. This mascot seems particularly appropriate given the Heat’s summer.
16. Milwaukee Bucks – Bango – Correlation: 1.00
The Bucks went with the obvious choice, a Buck, and factored in some alliteration as well in choosing the name. They obviously wanted to keep their expectations reasonable, going with a 4 point rack for their buck. (Yeah, I just made a hunting joke.)
17. Minnesota Timberwolves – Crunch the Wolf – Correlation: 1.00
The Timberwolves went obvious as well, sticking with the strictly literal interpretation. In a little known fact, the name Crunch the Wolf comes from the campaign slogan of an Idaho State Senator. (Yeah, I just made an Inland Northwest regional political joke.)
18. New Jersey Nets – Sly the Silver Fox – Correlation: -0.28
New Jersey picked this mascot because people often try to catch a fox with a net. Silver fox is also a euphimism for a senior citizen so apparently the organization is targeting a specific age group for season ticket sales.
19. New Orleans Hornets – Hugo the Hornet – Correlation: 1.00
A little heavy on the alliteration there New Orleans? You decided Hugo the Huge Hornet wouldn’t fit on the back of his jersey?
20. New York Knicks – No Mascot – Correlation: NA
New York, too cool for mascots.
21. Oklahoma City – Rumble the Bison – Correlation: 0.73
Oklahoma City received some extra points for their creativity. Bison can evoke images of thunder as they pound across the Great Plains. They lost some points for design however, as their Bison appears to be of the long haired African variety.
22. Orlando Magic – Stuff the Magic Dragon – Correlation: 0.77
On one hand Orlando has chosen Dragons, mystical and magical beasts featured in the legends of many cultures. However, in choosing a name for their mascot they have butchered the memory of a cherished children’s song. In addition, there is a vocal minority on the interwebs claiming the entire song is a euphemism for inhalation of marijuana. Is this really the message you want to send to your fans? (If it is the case, the Pacers would be happy to send them Brandon Rush for Brandon Bass.)
23. Philadelphia 76ers – Hip Hop the Rabbit – Correlation: 0.11
A little known fact is that the Founding Fathers gave serious thought to choosing a rabbit as our national symbol. Kudos to Philadelphia for doing their research.
24. Phoenix Suns – Go the Gorilla – Correlation: 0.96
At first glance this seems like a strange correlation. But it’s important to remember the namesake star for the Phoenix basketball team is not the star at the center of our solar system, but the star around which the Planet of the Apes orbits. Go the Gorilla is an extraterristreal primate.
25. Portland Trail Blazers – Blaze the Trail Cat – Correlation: NA
Apparently Trail Cats are a fictional creature cooked up by the Portland front office. Since my statistical model wasn’t exactly sure what a Trail Blazer was either, it was unable to produce a numeric correlation.
26. Sacramento Kings – Slamson the Lion – Correlation: 0.74
The Kings avoided the easy, literal solution of a masculine, royal humanoid and instead went with the King of the Jungle. This makes sense when considering the team was likely trying to attact kids. There are several positive lion role models for children including Simba and Aslan. Hamlet and Henry the VIII don’t elicit quite the same response from the 6-12 year old demographic.
27. San Antonio Spurs – The Coyote – Correlation: 0.00
This is almost as nonsensical as the choices that were made in Portland. Since spurs and coyotes are actual things we were able to actually run the numbers. Spurs go on your boots and are used to urge a horse to go faster. Coyotes don’t wear boots or ride horses. They also don’t get ridden by humans. I’m lost here.
28. Toronto Raptors – The Raptor – Correlation: 1.00
Excellent work by another expansion team, putting as little effort into this whole exercise as possible. I know Raptors were likely non-verbal creatures but it can’t even get name. Ronnie the Raptor? Reginald the Raptor? Rowdy the Raptor?
29. Utah Jazz – Jazz Bear – Correlation: 0.98
When the Jazz moved to Salt Lake they had a tailor-made mascot solution. The mountains of Utah have many bears and everyone knows bears love jazz. They do NOT care for that new breed of funky jazz fusion, thank you very much Soulive. Bears, beets, Battlestar Galactica.
30. Washington Wizards – G-Wiz and G-Man – Correlation 0.32
G-Man on his own had a fairly strong correlation. Washington is home to the FBI, who’s agents are occasionally referred to as G-Men. Forget the fact that he bears no resemblance to any FBI agent I’ve ever seen (I’ve seen exactly one in person.) G-Wiz appears to be a cousin to the Philly Phanatic and is obviously supposed to be a representative from our government’s Department of Magical Management, our answer to the U.K.’s Ministry of Magic.