Illustration by Genevieve Santos

Abolish the MVP award and a Guide to NBA Team Names

Crack Conversations for Your 2015 NBA Playoffs
Day 3

Previous Crack Conversations for Your 2015 NBA Playoffs:
Day 2

When should you call a team by its full name and when should you call a team by its nickname?

Milwaukee Bucks at Chicago Bulls
Game 2 (Bulls lead series 1–0): 5:00 pm PT/8:00 pm ET on TNT

The best way to start thinking about this is when there are teams that are popular enough that they don’t require any further specification beyond their nickname, especially in conversations that are occurring outside of the region in which the team resides.

In a way, the Bucks-Bulls matchup typifies this divide. You call the Bulls the “Bulls”. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Chicago. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Milwaukee. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Japan. The Bulls are the Bulls. Similarly, the Lakers are the Lakers. The Knicks are the Knicks. This is, how do you say it in your language, no duh bruh.

Conversely, when you’re talking about the Bucks outside of Milwaukee (and maybe, given its past attendance issues, inside of Milwaukee as well), you gotta call them by their full name. You may even need to show the person visual evidence of basketball being played in Milwaukee. It may be too hard to believe otherwise.

Just Nickname Teams:

  • Bulls. “JORDAN BRO”.
  • Knicks. The Knicks are a legendary franchise and super popular but a few more losing seasons from these Knicks and a few more winning seasons from Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick and we may need to consider the ultimate team name embarrassment for them: having to say the actual sport the team plays along with their city and nickname (i.e. The New York Basketball Knicks or, maybe, the non-Clive-Owen-affiliated New York Knicks).
  • Celtics. The Celtics are another legendary franchise and they won a title in 2007–2008. Even with their recent down years, all the Red Sox, Patriots and Bruins winning over the last decade has kinda made the Celtics winners by regional sports osmosis. It’s hard to think of a Boston sports team that needs to go by its full name.
  • Lakers. It’s hard to tell whether or not the Lakers are just “The Lakers” because of their storied franchise and highly visible success on a global scale or because “Lakers” is such a weird name. Are Lakers people who are fans of lakes? Can you be a “fan of lakes” and not be a serial killer? “Mmm…no cell phone reception, lots of good hiding places…”
  • Clippers. The Clippers get this designation on some account of the Lob City era but mostly because they’re one of those “two teams of the same sport in the same city” teams which means nobody calls them Los Angeles.
  • Warriors. A lot of this has to do with how visible the Warriors have been lately but also saying “Golden State” seems like such an epic journey. TWO WORDS? TL;DR!
  • Heat. This is all about Lebron and the previous three years. If their “amazing” fans have any say in it, they’re about to be headed to “Full Name” designation any day now.
  • Cavs (but not if you say Cavaliers). Once again, it’s all about Lebron. “Cleveland Cavaliers” sounds pretty poetic when together. Alone, just saying Cleveland feels too vague and I only think serial killers pretending to be basketball fans so they can lure unsuspecting people to a place to kill them call the Cavs “the Cavaliers”. “Hey you want to come to my chill lake house to watch the basketball Cavaliers score a lot of runs?”
  • 76ers. What a mouthful. In our TL;DR culture I would not be surprised if they just become flat out the Sixers within the next five years. Or given their current performance trajectory, they may just be kicked out of the league.
  • Raptors. I was torn about this. On one hand, saying to someone “Want to see the Raptors play?” can sound like a roundabout way of asking someone to watch Jurassic World. On the other hand, Vinsanity had some real legs to it and on top of that, Drake’s affiliation with the team has really carried its popularity to new heights in the post-Vince, post-Bosh era.
  • Pistons. The Pistons are a somewhat storied franchise and in some way their legend gets to live a little bit longer every time someone tries to justify the hope that their no superstar team has a chance to win the title.
  • OKC but not Thunder. Everything from the jerseys to the nickname to the medical staff is lousy here. Thunder is such a limp bizkit (YEAH DAWG) of a name, seemingly designed to be wildly inoffensive and appeal to what a bad marketing team envisions to be the sensibilities of pre-tween little kids (“THE OKLAHOMA CITY NINJAGO AMERICAN GIRL MINECRAFTERS). As long as Durant and/or (OR!!!!) Westbrook are around, they can be just OKC.
  • Jazz. To the best name in sports because it has a cool insouciant elegance to it that doesn’t seem to be over compensating for something, a rarity in modern sports naming (“OUR TEAM NAME IS GONNA BE THE COOL AWESOME AMAZING HUGE PENIS FAST CARS BIG GUN GUYS WOOOOOOOO!”). It’s great that with Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Dante Exum and most importantly, Not Enes Kanter that the Jazz are close to getting a team befitting of their name.
  • Rockets. They’re a catastrophic early morning boat party accident away from being James-Harden-less and back to being the Houston Rockets but for now, they’re just the Rockets.
  • Grizzlies. This is less about the team even though this is a high quality team. This is more about the syllabic dissonance between the words “Memphis” and “Grizzlies”. “Memphis” is such a soft word. BUY YOURSELF A CLOUD TO SLEEP ON, MEMPHIS. “Grizzlies” on the other hand is like a knife to your throat. Not one but TWO Zs?! CALL THE POLICE.
  • Spurs. I don’t think anybody would dispute this.
  • Mavs but not Mavericks. (See “Cavs”)

Full Name Teams:

  • Brooklyn Nets. I feel like, if you can believe it, the Nets have become even more anonymous since their move to Brooklyn which ultimately seems like it was just a small part of a larger real estate development deal. They should call them the Brooklyn Real Estate.
  • Milwaukee Bucks. A promising team but still nationally anonymous.
  • Orlando Magic. Forever in naming rights battle royale with the card game and the amazing things some people could do with playing cards. It would take a Shaq and Penny time machine to bump them to “Just Nickname” status.
  • Washington Wizards. WIZARD PARTY is the first Wizard anybody should think of.
  • Charlotte Hornets. Still recovering from the schizophrenia of the “Charlotte Bobcats”, “New Orleans Hornets” and “New Orleans Pelicans” eras.
  • Indiana Pacers. This is the only team where saying the full name sounds a lot nicer than saying just the nickname. Saying “Indiana Pacers” is like a nice short story about coming of age.
  • Denver Nuggets. Always #2 to Chicken Nuggets.
  • Minnesota Timberwolves. Quite a mouthful. Probably would reside in “Just Nickname” tier if people actually called them the Timberwolves. But between the T-Wolves, the Wolves and playing bad basketball, it’s hard for them to gain any footing in the popular culture.
  • New Orleans Pelicans. (see Charlotte Hornets) They’re on the cusp of breaking through to “Just Nickname” status if The Brow continues his ascent to becoming the best player in the league. We can’t have our league’s best player playing on something called the New Orleans Pelicans. It’s gotta truncate things somewhere. Pellies. NOLA. The Cans.
  • Phoenix Suns. This is what you get for choosing your name as something we see every day.
  • Sacramento Kings. Forever at war with the LA Kings. Will always believe the LA hockey team should be called The Ice Lakers. For serial killers in ALASKA!

Have MVP debates turned us into monsters?

New Orleans Pelicans at Golden State Warriors
Game 2 (Warriors lead series 1–0): 7:30 pm PT/10:30 pm ET on TNT

Trying to parse through the negatives in the seasons just played by Steph Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, Russ Westbrook and Lebron James in order to find out who is the one true MVP is insane. In theory, the MVP award and consequently the debates leading up to its awarding is supposed to stimulate discussion of whom the best player in the league was for a given season to such an extent that a casual observer could glom onto that name as an entry point into casual fandom of the sports league in question. However, this year it’s gotten a bit ridiculous. As appreciators of the game, we probably shouldn’t be in the business of denigrating amazing seasons from five amazing players in order to further our argument for our own given choice for MVP. They all had great seasons and the MVP award, aside from any contractual stipulations for the player himself, is materially meaningless. It’s a marketing tactic.

Also, if this year’s MVP debate has taught us anything it’s taught us about the inanity of saying stuff like “WHAT IF HARDEN WAS ON THE WARRIORS AND CURRY WAS ON THE ROCKETS?” This isn’t baseball where you can come very close to isolating an individual player’s performance to such an extent where you can objectively adjudicate on a MVP race. Basketball, it should come as no surprise to you, is a team sport and isolating individual performance to such an extent where you could plug that individual performance into a hypothetical team and extrapolate what that individual performance’s effect would be on the hypothetical team, at least for now, has some very real limits. I really agree with Grantland’s Zach Lowe when he says:

“It has been fashionable to suggest the Warriors could chase 50 wins if you replaced Curry with a league-average point guard, and that Houston would die if you did the same with Harden. But there’s no way to really know, and shouting those counterfactuals tends to be a way for people with a preferred ending already in mind to drown out everything else that should factor into the race.”

Steph Curry plays for the Warriors and James Harden plays for the Rockets. Deal with it.

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