The second-most ’90s thing in professional sports is the Hornets still using teal as a primary color. (And, considering it’s the second edition of that franchise, it can be viewed in a more forgiving throwback/nostalgic light.) The single most ’90s thing in professional sports is, obviously, that there is a team called the Raptors. It didn’t have to be this way.
Not just ’90s, but extremely 1994, and you can blame Stephen Spielberg. Jurassic Park had been out for less than a year when Toronto’s expansion NBA team got its name through a combination of fan submissions and fan voting, and, ultimately, team and league executives making the final call after seeing public polling. And I get it; Jurassic Park ruled. The velociraptors ruled. (Velociraptors rule a little less these days, knowing as we do that they actually looked more like mean chickens.) I absolutely would have wanted to name a basketball team the Raptors. But I was 10 years old and no one should have listened to me.
Toronto had ideas. Lots of ‘em. In most cases, pretty good ideas. Gil Meslin has ducked his head into the archives and come out with Toronto Star coverage through the naming process, including this longlist of fan submissions for potential team names. (Click to expand the full image.)
It’s a mixture of serious, good ideas (Toronto Arrows, Toronto Whiskeyjacks, Toronto Yorks) and serious, bad ideas (Toronto Bucketeers, Toronto Axis, Toronto Bounce) and clear jokes (Toronto John Candy, Toronto Blue Basketballs, Toronto Tallboys) and mass nouns, which are as of-their-era as dinosaur names (Toronto Bounce, Toronto Torch, Toronto Blast), and also the Toronto Thunderducks.
And then there were the dinosaur names. (“Toronto T-Rex” was popular enough to make the shortlist; “Torontosaurus Rex” is insane and brilliant and so dumb that I love it.)
Ultimately, the team’s owners narrowed their list down to 10, all of which they apparently would have been able to accept as an actual team name, had the people so decreed. Because the next step was fan voting to narrow 10 down to three.
The three finalists were Dragons, Bobcats, and Raptors, with the final decision made by club and league officials. I can’t sit here and look you in the eye and say with a straight face that either of the other two choices was clearly better. Which I guess means that where things really went wrong was in letting the public have a say in narrowing it down.
The upside to this is that the name is Toronto’s. Their choice, their team, their Raptors. Familiarity and ownership breed affection. In 2013, at a relatively low point in the franchise’s fortunes, then–MLSE President Tim Leiweke floated what sure sounded like a trial balloon when he launched a rebranding and said publicly that ownership would look into changing the team’s name. They ultimately got new logos and new uniforms, but the idea of ditching “Raptors” proved such a non-starter with the public that it was allowed to die quietly. It turned out that fans had such strong memories—not even necessarily good memories—associated with the Raptors that they couldn’t imagine them being anything else.
Now with the Raptors in the Finals for the first time, they’ve created a memory strong enough to all but ensure that “Raptors” is here to stay. Because, after long enough, even a silly team name that blares exactly when and why it was chosen grows into a story that’s less about its birth and more about what it’s become.
It’d still be cool if they put feathers on the logo, though.