Like many disconcerting trends happening in the world right now, I’m not entirely sure how this one got started. It is resolutely not a serious matter, but seeing as how this is a sports website, one dedicated to a local Toronto sports team, it behooves me to report on it. So here goes.
The Toronto Raptors should definitely not change their name and re-brand themselves as the Toronto Huskies. It is a bad idea and it should not happen.
Ever since the inaugural season, when it was determined that the team would in fact be named the Raptors, there has been a question as to the name’s appropriateness. Detractors of the moniker point to its link to the popular Jurassic Park film at the time, and the lack of any real dinosaur history in and around the Toronto area (save for the ROM). These are not unfair points, I suppose. However, it bears mentioning here, before we get into the top three reasons why a re-brand is a bad idea, that the other name ideas were equally bad, if not worse.
As has been well-documented, the popular other choices at the time were: Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs, Scorpions, T-Rex, Tarantulas, and Terriers.
Read that list again. Guys, these are all terrible names. Beavers, Hogs and Terriers (classic show notwithstanding) are all unbearably provincial and quaint; Bobcats is plain dumb (case-in-point: the actual Bobcats); Dragons and Scorpions make the team sound like an off-brand biker gang; Grizzlies makes even less sense than Raptors; T-Rex is just a different dinosaur; and Tarantulas may be the worst idea of all time — ain’t nobody out there going to cheer for gotdamn spiders. Jesus.
Now, there was also talk of Towers as an option, which, if you squint and think about it, almost works. Toronto has the CN Tower, and basketball players are tall, and if you blah blah blah. Even someone as civic-minded and Toronto-proud as me can agree: nobody names a team after a structure. Let’s get real.
So after all that came tumbling out, Toronto got the Raptors — Jurassic Park inspiration and all — and have owned it, for better or worse, for more than 20 years. This Huskies re-brand thing from last Saturday night was a nice nod to history, but let’s not get carried away here. The Huskies is a bad team name, and here’s why.
This is a basic consideration but I feel it should not be overlooked.
Is there a finer moment in a Raptors game than when the volume in the ACC starts to increase (I mean the crowd volume, not the incessant music) and a chant breaks out? Think on it, hear it in your mind: Let’s go Raptors. It begins. Let’s Go Raptors! It continues. Let’s Go RAPTORS! It grows. LET’S GO RAPTORS!!! The crowd loses control.
Now try to do that with Huskies. Go on, give it a shot. You can’t do it. It’s just too mush-mouthed a word. The consonants run together, there’s a lot of hissing. A Huskies chant would be a disaster. Not so with Raptors, which is all sharp consonants with great resonance and a cadence that yearns to be yelled at full volume. Even the short form “Raps” works well.
You want to cheer on a team that can be nicknamed the “Husks”? Come on, dog.
I can already hear you telling me that the history of the team is what’s important and should be preserved. The original version of the NBA, known then as the Basketball Association of America (BAA), played its first ever game in Toronto (at Maple Leaf Gardens) on November 1, 1946. It was a 68-66 win for the New York Knickerbockers over the Toronto Huskies. Cool.
Unfortunately, this overlooks the fact that the Huskies — as with most other BAA teams at the time — were devised merely to fill dates on the arena schedule. Yes, you’re not going to believe this but the BAA began as a league in the shadow of the more powerful NHL, with teams like the Huskies getting “the worst possible home dates” and minimal cooperation for the local media. Is it any wonder the team folded after its first and only season, a season in which they went 22-38? This is not a strong historical connection or one we necessarily have to maintain. A cynic would even joke at how little times have changed.
But in a sense, times have changed. The NBA is now, arguably, the second biggest sports league in the world (behind FIFA and/or some combination of soccer leagues). It’s star players are a huge, huge deal in many different realms of public life. And yes, while the Raptors are still in the shadow of the Toronto Maple Leafs, they are not an afterthought; and they definitely won’t be folding any time soon. It’s more recent history, relatively speaking, but it carries all of the weight.
In a sense, the Raptors have spent the first two decades plus of their existence digging themselves out of a hole. The franchise is the first (and now only) Canada-based NBA team. It spent the first few years of its existence operating out of an out-sized baseball stadium. It was run about as poorly as you can imagine those first five years — with angry coaches, poorly thought out roster building strategies, Isiah Thomas was involved, etc. Luminous Vince Carter-induced years aside, the history of the Raptors has been mostly bad, mostly forgettable, and mostly ignored.
Now hold on a second: You know what team has slowly earned respect in the league over the last few years? You know what team suddenly matters in the broader NBA picture as both a competitive and well-run organization? You know what team has a real tangible presence in basketball culture and beyond? Hey! It’s the Raptors!
Yes, after a remarkably terrible stretch, the last four years have seen the Raptors take the first awesome steps out of that metaphorical hole they’ve been in since their inception. The Raptors name has value now, it has been (and continues to be) repaired and restored in the eyes of basketball fans. The Raptors, quite simply, are no longer a joke. They matter.
Let me put it another, more local way.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been mostly bad for decades now. The 2000s have been something of an embarrassment, the 90s offered a few peaks amid disastrous valleys. The 80s, for those who remember, were an outright disaster. Despite remaining the most valuable franchise in the NHL, the Leafs have not scaled to the top of the mountain and held the Stanley Cup since 1967 (perhaps the most well-known date in Toronto).
But you can be damn sure if/when messiah Auston Matthews and his disciples lead Toronto back to the promised land, the last last last last last thing the Leafs are going to do is re-think the brand and distance themselves from any of that acrimony. If anything they’ll probably drown the city in the significance of the team’s very real history and nostalgia, including all of the ups and downs along the way. It’s been the Leafs’ journey, the one generations of fans have taken along with them, that means something. They own it.
In that spirit, we must own it too. The Raptors are good now, and if they are to become great, they must remain the Raptors.