Sports world has long history of changing nicknames

By Joe Knowles

Chicago Tribune (MCT)

Published: Wednesday, June 18 2014 3:00 p.m. MDT

It was not well received. In fact, it was panned roundly and quickly sunk like the piece of heavy metal it was.

Former Marquette star Dwyane Wade, who was playing for the NBA’s Heat at the time, summed up the feelings of many alumni in an interview with ESPN.

“The Gold?” Wade asked incredulously. “I got to make a phone call to Marquette.”

The school abandoned Gold and stuck with Golden Eagles.

The Cleveland Indians are another story. While the name might not be offensive, the team’s mascot Chief Wahoo, a cartoon caricature of an American Indian, certainly is to many.

On Wednesday, the Cleveland Plain Dealer posted a column headlined: “Washington Redskins trademarks canceled: Should Cleveland’s Chief Wahoo be next?”

Until 1997, the NBA’s Washington Wizards were known as the Bullets. In various interviews on the topic, owner Abe Pollin said he became increasingly uncomfortable with the name in light of the gun violence in Washington.

While the negative connotation of “Bullets” seems to have been a factor in the franchise’s decision to change the nickname, it’s worth noting that they timed the switch to coincide with a move to a new downtown arena.

They held a contest where fans voted on five possible new names (Dragons, Express, Sea Dogs, Stallions and Wizards). A Washington Post editorial: “Except for Sea Dogs, which is simply inexplicable, they look like the output of the same computer programs that create names for new car models and laundry detergents. One other thing they have in common: None of these names has a thing to do with the city.”

“Wizards” was the contest winner, but the choice wasn’t popular with everyone and carried its own share of baggage. The local chapter of the NAACP pointed out the name’s connection to the Ku Klux Klan.

Even after the name was changed, the team wore the old uniforms — the red, white and blue versions and the vintage orange models, both with “Bullets” across the front of the jersey — several times over the course of three seasons as part of the NBA’s “Hardwood Classics” campaign. It’s no secret that the NBA and other pro leagues promote these throwback gimmicks in part to move team merchandise.

The Wizards online store still sells retro “Bullets” jerseys, with Hall-of-Famer Wes Unseld’s number 41. They sell for $109.95 apiece.

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