It isn’t uncommon anymore for professional sports teams to change their respective names. Some franchises opt to just change their location yet stick with the name while others go for the opposite approach. Over the years, the NBA has seen a lot of name/location changes. It raises the question though, which teams actually changed their names throughout their history?
What NBA Teams Have Changed Their Name? There is a surprising number of teams in the league today that didn’t start out with their current organization name. The Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Hornets, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and the Washington Wizards have all flipped their names dating back to 1940 when the majority of them were introduced.
There is some more information to be shared regarding these teams and the reason for their name changes in the league. We should also dive a little deeper on the other teams that chose to change their location but hold onto their franchise name.
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Why Did These Teams Change Their Names?
The Atlanta Hawks originally came around as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. They had to move in 1951 and flipped over to the Milwaukee Hawks, later moving again to become the St. Louis Hawks and finally the Atlanta Hawks that we all know and love.
The Brooklyn Nets were originally brought into reality with the name New York Americans before changing to the New Jersey Nets and then again to Brooklyn.
The Charlotte Hornets started out as the Charlotte Bobcats and have kept the name since the change.
The Denver Nuggets were originally the Denver Rockets but when they moved to the NBA, they were forced to change names due to the Houston Rockets.
The Los Angeles Clippers were created under the name Buffalo Braves, but made a random switch to the San Diego Clippers in 1978. They moved to Los Angeles from there and chose to hold onto the team’s name.
We just touched on the Hornets, but the other half of their team’s name was from the New Orleans Pelicans. This squad was formerly known as the New Orleans Hornets before them and Charlotte did some flipping around.
The Oklahoma City Thunder we all know was formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics. They had to change their name due to the city of Seattle owning the legal rights to the nickname Sonics.
The Philadelphia 76ers were introduced with the name Syracuse Nationals, but that changed two decades later when they turned to the 76ers.
Onto the Sacramento Kings now, they were known as the Rochester Royals at first. They moved to other cities like Cincinnati and Kansas City while holding onto the name, but finally changed it to the Kings. Now, they reside in Sacramento since 1975.
The San Antonio Spurs were known as the Dallas Chaparrals, then the Texas Chaparrals. A few years later that name wasn’t working out so they went to become the San Antonio Gunslingers. Again, they needed a change, and the name “Spurs” came into fruition.
Finally, we come to the Washington Wizards. This one is a doozy so buckle in. They were originally known as the Chicago Packers, then the Chicago Zephyrs. Later they moved to Baltimore and became the Ballets. They moved again and turned into the Capital Bullets, which stuck around for a good amount of time and stayed with them while they moved to Washington. However, gun violence in the area was severe at the time so they didn’t want to be known as the Bullets, then they became the Wizards.
What Other Teams Have Changed Locations?
There are some other teams that have flipped their locations since joining the league, yet stuck with their original name. The Detroit Pistons is the first team to be mentioned here. They were originally known as the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, but their move to Michigan changed that entirely.
The Golden State Warriors were the Philadelphia Warriors when Wilt Chamberlain was around but moved to San Francisco in 1962. They became the team we know today about a decade later in 1971. The Houston Rockets were created as the San Diego Rockets but moved to Houston three years after creation. The Los Angeles Lakers believe it or not didn’t originate in the area. They were first known as the Minneapolis Lakers as a BAA team but came to Los Angeles 11 years down the line.
The Memphis Grizzlies were the Vancouver Grizzlies before shifting down to the United States. They requested to change their name to the Memphis Express but the league shut the door on that proposal. Lastly, we have the Utah Jazz. This franchise was founded in 1974 as the New Orleans Jazz but in 1979 they moved to Utah and stuck with their original name.
What Teams Haven’t Changed at All?
Looking back on it, it may seem ridiculously rare for a franchise in professional sports to hold onto their same city and name forever. However, a few teams have been able to do that in the NBA since their creation. The Boston Celtics were created in 1946 and the only thing that was changed from that point on is their uniforms, and even that barely made a difference. The Chicago Bulls stuck around since 1966 and probably got a huge boost in popularity during those Michael Jordan years.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have changed their image and uniforms but have yet to touch their name or city since birth. The Dallas Mavericks were created in 1980 after the San Antonio Spurs let go of the Dallas Chaparrals. They have also not touched their name. The Indiana Pacers were made in 1967 for the ABA but flooded into the NBA in 1976. They haven’t changed names or cities. The Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers and the Toronto Raptors are the rest of the teams that haven’t changed anything except for image and uniform. All of them should be grouped together because they have similar backstories, getting created decades ago and then moved into the NBA without changing.