In recent years, the NBA’s Development League -- commonly referred to as the D-League -- has cemented itself as pro basketball’s farm system. But away from the spotlight of its big brother, its franchises are able to have names that are legitimately awesome. Here are some standouts.

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January 30, 2012

Maine Red Claws


I love this. First off, there aren’t enough sports franchises named for the terrifying abominations that are crustaceans. We’re talking giant, armored bugs that rule the bottom of the sea, yet are filled with delectable flesh meat. These are Things That Should Not Be.
Lobsters are the closest thing nature has to video game bosses. The thick protective shell, the giant pinching claws, the beady eyes flanked by nightmarish antenna spears -- this is some Starship Troopers shit. I mean, doesn’t Red Claws sound way more ferocious than an innocuous concept like Heat or Magic?
Plus, with the NBA boasting such transplanted non-sequiturs as the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s refreshing to have a name that makes geographical sense. Maine has lobsters. This feels right.

Bakersfield Jam


Bakersfield is an inland California city known for its farmland, distinct smell, and rampant obesity. Notable natives include the band Korn (no, I’m not doing the backwards “R”). Bakersfield would be California’s Alabama, if that title wasn’t already held by Fresno.
So of course it makes sense to name their team after a dated, vaguely hip-hop term that conveys at once both New Jack Swing and dunks. Bakersfield Jam is the much less ambitious sequel to Space Jam.
Now, clearly they mean “Jam” in the bad Michael Jackson song sense. But I prefer to think of Jam here as meaning a blended mash of fruit for use on toast, bagels, or maybe even scones. Why shouldn’t we name a pro sports franchise after a tasty spread?

Sioux Falls Skyforce


Delightful. See, most team names have a connection to an existing concept -- an animal; some kind of weather event; a grossly offended Indian tribe. But unless Skyforce is named after a mildly popular, 3.5-star rated iPhone game, this is a word they just made the fuck up. 

“Skyforce” sounds like a C-list superhero created by a coked-up Stan Lee in the mid 70s. Or maybe a direct-to-video Wesley Snipes movie, featuring Tom Hulce and introducing Tonya from The Real World.
But hey, points for not being married to things that are actually real, city of Sioux Falls.

Dakota Wizards

Here’s the thing: there’s already an NBA franchise named the Washington Wizards*. But look at their current logo:

They’re not even acknowledging their connection to homeless looking dudes who cast Magic Missile.
But the Dakota Wizards? Their logo is a wizard casting a spell on a basketball:
They couldn’t be more wizardy if they were battling balrogs on Waverly Place. Nice commitment, gang!
*The Wizards used to be called the Bullets, until their owner decided that was too violent. But it’s a little strange that they settled on Wizards, a term strongly linked to the KKK. Up next: the Charlotte Grand Dragons?

Texas Legends


Look: it’s great that the D-League exists. An institutional structure to allow the young or the passed over an opportunity to earn their way onto the main stage? That’s America.

But labeling a collection of aspiring and/or demoted NBA players as “Legends”? I can only assume the person who named this team was either grossly delusional or just a real smartass. Why not call them the Texas First Ballot Hall of Famers? Or the Texas Current NBA Players? Maybe the Texas Concept of Ironies? 
As a side note, the Texas Legends roster includes 36-year-old former NBA player Antonio Daniels. Which makes me think he’s involved in some sort of high concept Billy Madison -esque scenario. “In order to collect his uncle’s inheritance, an aging NBA player has to go back -- to the minors!”

Fort Wayne Mad Ants


Fort Wayne, Indiana. A city I’d never even heard of until the D-League. Frankly, I’m still not convinced it exists.

Yet here we have one of the best team names in all of sports. Mad. Ants. Simple adjective, simple noun, phenomenal name. Jesus that’s so great. I don’t even need to explain why; it just is. It’s like pie.
Here’s what I want to know: are these Mad Ants enraged or insane? Either way, I’m onboard. And scared. And hey, let’s hear it for their cheerleaders, the Fort Wayne Madame Ants!
(Interesting fact: you can’t try out unless you’ve had a C-section.)