What’s so silly about Memphis Grizzlies?

I was listening to a Bill Simmons podcast and the subject of silly nicknames came up, which inevitably led to the silliness of Memphis having a basketball team named the Grizzlies. I’ve heard people before ridiculing the incongruity of that name, but I have to say, it doesn’t strike me as all that weird.

Okay, it made more sense when they were in Vancouver, but whenever this subject comes up, I often hear mention of the Grizzlies but rarely, if ever, hear anyone mention the Detroit Lions or Tigers, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Seattle Seahawks (a fictional animal), the Calgary Flames (named after a fire that destroyed Atlanta), the Hamilton Tigercats, the Toronto Argonauts, the Toronto Raptors, The Philadelphia Eagles (because their aren’t that many on the east coast), the New York Giants, the Tennessee Titans, (and what’s up with Kansas City’s love of royalty?) or the plethora of colleges named after animals or other objects that do not have anything to do with their regions: Auburn Tigers and/or War Eagles, the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Memphis Tigers, Houston Cougars, Tulsa Golden Hurricanes, the Pittsburgh State Gorillas, etc.

Now, the Lakers, Jazz, Raptors, and Nets are also rightly made fun of, but the Grizzlies are not at all in the same league of stupidity as these since there are plenty of analogues for incongruous animal names. Jazz in Utah, on the other hand, dumb.

As someone who lived in Memphis for quite a while, I can also say that there just aren’t that many things to name your team after, which is why teams who have been in Memphis tend to have odd names: the ABA’s TAMs (which is an acronym for Tennessee Arkansas Mississippi), which changed its name to the Sounds, the CFL’s  Mad Dogs (which is a strange homage to Elvis’s famous song, Hound Dog), the NFL’s Oilers (which was temporary until Nashville took the team and renamed them the Titans, a reference to Nashville’s kind of nonsensical moniker “Athens of the South”), AA Baseball’s the Chicks (short for Chickasaw), AAA Baseball’s Redbirds, the USFL’s Showboats, the CHL’s RiverKings, the Maniax (guess which league, I’ll give you one chance), the WFL’s Southmen, and an early pro football team the Tigers.

There’s a reason they kept the Grizzlies other than that the NBA wouldn’t let them change it to the Express (which I kind of liked). There’s really not a lot to name yourself after in Memphis that either hasn’t been tried or would be that inspiring. The zoo has a few pandas; St. Louis might not like Memphis taking the Blues (and do you really want a name that another city already has–that doesn’t strike me as good marketing). Memphis is the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll but the Rocks

wouldn’t strike fear into other basketball teams. Perhaps Rockers, but there haven’t been a host of rockers to come from Memphis in recent years like other cities. I kind of like the RiverKings, but I think it’s still being used. Stern wouldn’t go for Showboats.

Others I’ve thought of are some sort of river snake that lives in the Mississippi, and maybe the Gentlemen, though you might have a difficult time creating a mascot that didn’t look like an antebellum slave owner.

I’m sure there are other good names, but really what’s so wrong with the Grizzlies? So there aren’t any in the Midsouth, the Tiger is the most popular mascot among sports teams in North America and no one even gives it a second thought.

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