What’s in a name?
Over the years, we’ve seen a multitude of name changes in professional sports arenas and stadiums.
The naming rights to our nation’s largest, and most visible, arenas are sold at an alarming rate. As a kid,
I relished the fact that I was the only one in my circle of friends who could name every
professional stadium, ballpark and arena.
The names of many were iconic: Madison Square Garden, The Spectrum, The Forum and The
Boston Garden. These names were supposed to outlive the arenas themselves; were supposed to
evoke fear and intimidation into the hearts of the opponents as they walked through the visitors’ tunnel.
However, today, when we play in places like the AT&T Center and the American
Airlines Center (or possibly the American Airlines Arena), we have as hard a time coming up with their
home affiliation as the $1 million question from Regis in the late 1990s. Tradition and identity are sold for 10 to 15 years at a time for a chance at marketing their product and their name brands.
Looking back over the years, I’ve tracked down the names of every basketball arena in which
NBA and ABA games were played. Some of these names are interesting, to say the least, and I’ve narrowed down my ten least favorite for you.
10. Gund Arena (Cleveland Cavaliers; 1975-2005): The Gund, which opened in 1994, became the downtown home of the Cavaliers. The positioning of the arena helped to completely
revitalize the urban blight of the “Mistake on the Lake.” It was a far better situation for the Cavs to be
downtown that out in the country at their former home, The Coliseum at Richfield. The arena’s
namesake was the team’s former owner, Gordon Gund. Gund paid money out of his own pocket to have the arena named after him. The name was changed in 2005 to the Quicken Loans Arena. Now, I’m not a huge fan of that name either. However, “The Q” is a name that I think identifies well with the city as opposed to the guttural-sounding Gund.
9. The Rose Garden (Portland Trail Blazers; 1995-present): The Rose Garden, which has
come to be known as the Rose Garden Arena, is about as far from an intimidating name as you can
get. To name an arena after one of the most delicate flowers on the planet is hardly a name that would
evoke any kind of primal fear in an opponent. It’s about as fragile a name as Greg Oden is a
8. The Wigwam (Anderson Packers; 1949-50): You have to dig way back into the annals of NBA
history to get this ridiculous a name for an equally ridiculous franchise. The Anderson Packers
were an NBA team for only one season, in 1950. The NBA absorbed the team after that first year and
hence put an end to NBA games in an arena with a name that would evoke protests and picket lines for
its racially insensitive connotations. One former name of the team, according to my friends
at Wikipedia, is the Chief Anderson Meat Packers. Dear God.
7. Amway Arena (Orlando Magic): I’ve always found it strange that this company would make the huge investment of owning the naming rights to an NBA basketball arena. It’s a company I associate with laundry detergent, pyramid schemes and door-to-door salesmen. The former name of the arena is actually not much better: For one year, it was simply called The Arena in Orlando. Walt Disney would no doubt be unimpressed with the five seconds of creativity it took to produce that one.
6. Sleep Train Arena (Sacramento Kings; 2013-present): The Kings’ home arena has the
distinction of having three different names from January 2011 to January 2013. Known as the ARCO Arena from 1988-2011, it became the Power Balance Pavilion in March 2011. However, after only 19 months, the naming rights to the 17,300-seat arena was changed to reflect, of all things, a mattress company. Now I feel like taking a nap.
5. Alexander Memorial Coliseum at McDonald’s Center (Atlanta Hawks; 1968-72): By far, the
biggest mouthful in terms of arena names in NBA history. This was the home of the Atlanta Hawks from
1968-72. At that point, everyone was sick of stumbling over such a filibuster of a name that they moved
to an arena with one of the shortest names in history, The Omni. The Hawks returned to what was
then called the Alexander Memorial Coliseum and the Georgia Dome for two years while their current
home was being constructed.
4. & 3. Moody Coliseum (Texas Chaparrals; 1967-73) and the Salt Palace (Utah Jazz; 1979-91):
These two arena names remind me of a slate of ex-girlfriends possessing the ability to ruin any good night of beer and basketball. Yes, there are very real and logical reasons behind these monikers. However, if you think back to the last time you had an argument with your “other of unknown significance,” I’m sure that one or both of these arena names come to mind. Moody Coliseum, as bad as that name already was, was replaced as the home of the San Antonio Spurs in 1973. The new arena for the Spurs had an equally terrible name as they played from 1973-91 in the HemisFair Arena. Again…Dear God.
2. The Cow Palace (San Francisco Warriors; 1962-64, 1966-71): If it was not for the arena at the
top spot on this countdown, this would have been the worst name for an arena by at least a pasture.
The California State Livestock Pavilion has been a mainstay in the San Francisco sports scene since
1941. Riddled with a tremendous amount of history and legacy, it is one of the most iconic arenas in U.S.
sports. However, despite the history, legacy and tradition, the name the evokes images of tractor pulls, 4H conventions and cow dung. According to the Keith Moon Movie website (http://www.keithmoonmovie.com), the drummer for The Who, ironically passed out at at concert at the Cow Palace due to an overdose of horse tranquilizers. I have to say that the Cow Palace is the filet of terrible arena names…minus my top choice.
1. North Side High School Gymnasium (Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons; 1948-52): Talk about
conjuring up images of Will Ferrell in a tight pair of short shorts and high-knee socks with matching
headbands and wrist bands. This former NBA arena was home to the Fort Wayne Pistons until they
moved to War Memorial Coliseum. The Fort Wayne franchise went on to become the three-time NBA champion Detroit Pistons. However, in their early years, they played in front of about 3,000 fans at what
is now the newly renovated library at North Side High School. Not only am I amazed that an NBA team
played four full seasons at the high school–sharing time with the high school teams–but I’m shocked that no one had the imagination to come up with some kind of unique name for the place instead of leaving it as is. To quote Woody Harrelson in the movie Ed TV , “A gymnasium is a place where old men go and shoot free throws underhanded.”
So what’s in a name? In today’s climate, it seems to be nothing more than money and, in the case of
extreme narcissism with Gund, ego. No history. No legacy. However, for a lucky few, if nothing else, it’s a chance to be on my list.