If you flip back far enough through the annals of sports history, you’d be able to find a number of sports franchises that may have started their humble beginnings under an unfamiliar banner. Many of those franchises now have become giants (no, that’s not a sports pun) and some have still yet to bask in their proverbial days in the sun.
The following five franchises are not the richest, or the poorest, but the most hard-up teams in sports history that have taken a swing at changing their fortunes by changing their name (or location). Nearly every team has gone through some form of rebranding or transformation. The New York Yankees started their illustrious reign originally as the New York Highlanders. Their successful long-time rivals, the Boston Red Sox, were once the Boston Americans. The L.A. Lakers are named as such despite the hilarious lack of lakes in the L.A. area because they were originally the Minneapolis Lakers, Minnesota being the “land of 10,000 lakes” (which by the way, is not an exaggeration, there are 11,842 lakes in Minnesota… I’m pretty sure that’s one for every state resident).
You get what I’m saying. Rebranding one’s franchise isn’t a crime. It is however, usually an indication that things aren’t going so well. It’s probably more likely civilization will end before the Yankees are in a rush to rebrand. The five teams on this list have changed their names in recent history, that is to say, within the past few decades, the furthest back being 1996 and the earliest being 2008. Whether the teams on this list have success or failure moving forward, each shift they have endured has some level of infamy in sports history.
5. Seattle Supersonics / Oklahoma City Thunder
Talk about moving on from a franchise at the worst time possible. From 1967 to 2008 the elder franchise of the Pacific Northwest (Trailblazers were founded in 1970) had a tepid history, but did manage to win a championship in 1979. In the three years leading up to the sale of the team to Oklahoma City, they won 35, 31 and 20 games. The diamond in the rough that sealed the transaction was the 2nd overall pick of the 2007 draft, a humble Rookie of the Year named Kevin Durant.
Basketball fans in Seattle still working on a time machine? Uh-huh, I thought so. From a business standpoint, the team was sold for $350 million from Seattle to the Oklahoma City. In 2014, they are valued at $590 million. From a basketball standpoint, the Seattle basketball fans must’ve had their hearts ripped out after seasons of disappointing performances, getting a rising superstar in Kevin Durant only to see the franchise pack up shop and go. (Durant is one of three teenage players ever to average 20+ points per game, the other two are Lebron and Carmelo.) If the Thunder win a championship under the watch of Durant and Westbrook, this already torturous move is going to drive some Northwestern football fanatics to drink. There’s got to be a flux capacitor around here somewhere . . .
4. Montreal Expos / Washington Nationals
The first MLB franchise ever to be awarded outside of the United States, the Expos’ path over the years was off the trail and through rocky ground. In 35 years the Expos won only one division title in the National League East, the 1981 second split-season which was greatly shortened by the baseball strike of that time. They lost in the playoffs to the L.A. Dodgers. That was their only playoff appearance. They never won a wild-card berth. They moved to Washington D.C. in 2005, being renamed the Washington Nationals. In the years since, the Nats have already won a division title in the NL East in 2012, making it all the way to the NLDS where they lost to the Cardinals 3-2. Bryce Harper won Rookie of the Year that year. Despite the newfound optimism, the Nats thus far have a .464 win percentage compared to the Expos’ dismal .484 over 35 years. For D.C. sports fans let’s hope that’s not a sign of things to come.
3. Washington Bullets / Washington Wizards
Whoever decides a team should be named ‘the bullets’ certainly doesn’t have a mindset for public relations. This franchise originally started as the Chicago Packers ’61-’62, then became the Chicago Zephyrs ’62-’63, Baltimore Bullets ’63-’73, Capital Bullets (dear god) ’73-’74, Washington Bullets ’74-’97, and finally the Washington Wizards ’97 to present. Whew. (If it were me, I’d rename them the Zephyrs again. Coolest name.)
So needless to say the franchise has rebranded and relocated enough to merit shaking many sticks. The absurdity of the ‘Bullets’ name was a feat of stupidity beyond measure. Given the increasing statistics for gun violence in the 90’s in the D.C. area, it soon became clear the smart move was to not have a basketball team named after something that’s only purpose was to kill. Even worse, someone could spin an argument that fandom of a team with a name could encourage gun violence. Beside all the controversy, as you might assume of a team with this much rebranding , the franchise has a regular season win percentage of .446, and a playoff percentage of .401. At least they won one championship in 1978. The franchise in 2014 is valued at $485 million, in the bottom third of 30 NBA teams at #21.
2. Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets/Bobcats/Pelicans
This is an extremely weird case of an expansion team growing out of another expansion team with the 2nd expansion team of the same name and location of the 1st expansion team. Okay, slowly now. The now New Orleans Pelicans started as the Charlotte Hornets in 1988, having only 6 winning seasons in 14 years before moving to New Orleans in 2002. They later would share the franchise for two years as the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets from 2005-2007 after hurricane Katrina had ravaged the city of New Orleans. The team would later start the makeover to become the Pelicans from 2013. While this was happening, the Charlotte Bobcats would form in 2004, owned by basketball megastar Michael Jordan, who wanted the then New Orleans Hornets’ name. MJ got the rights and renamed the team to the Charlotte Hornets starting in the 2014-15 NBA season.
Confused yet? These franchises have tried on names and locations like a Kardashian on a miracle mile shopping spree. But the now New Orleans Pelicans finally have some light at the end of the tunnel with the skinny sasquatch Anthony Davis running around all ends of the floor making go-go gadget blocks and Mr. Fantastic put-backs on a nightly basis. That being said, the team has never been to the NBA Finals, let alone win a championship. With a regular season percentage of .479 and a playoff percentage of .417, the franchise still has a long way to go. The Pelicans are valued at $420 million, 28th out of 30 teams. The Bobcats are 29th.
1. Cleveland Browns / Baltimore Ravens
Oh, this is too easy. Like a Shakespearian tragedy, the Art Modell-owned Browns packed up and left like a thief in the night, taking the franchise Cleveland (unfortunately) loved with him. The team would be renamed the Baltimore Ravens, after Edgar Allan Poe who lived and is buried in Baltimore. If you don’t know, the Browns are an venerable franchise extant from 1946 up until 1995 when they moved and relocated. They later would be ‘reborn’ in 1999 to resume their struggle. Despite pre-merger championships, the Browns have been hard on their luck since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. They have yet to appear in a Super Bowl.
What did Art Modell do with the relocated and renamed Ravens team in his first year? With his first two draft picks in 1996, the team selected 11-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden with the 4th overall pick, and a gregarious fellow by the name of Raymond Anthony Lewis Jr. at 26th overall. Even a casual football fan knows what is to follow. The former Browns, now Ravens would win a Super Bowl on the backs of a defense that would shake the foundation of football history in 2000, just four years after moving. The Ravens would go on to be a dominant force in the AFC North and the NFL, going to the playoffs 9 seasons of the 18 they have existed. They won another Super Bowl in 2012 in Ray Lewis’ final year in the NFL. The Ravens have had so much talent on their roster, they have had 39 Pro Bowl appearances from their first round picks alone. The irony of the Ravens being named after Poe, the master of tragedy, is just too absurd to be true. Some famous Cleveland sports figure must’ve driven a truck through a house of mirrors forty years ago.
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