A couple of months ago, Sports Nut peeked between the fingers over its eyes at the big-league banality brewing in Charlotte, N.C., which was sorting through mascots for its prenatal NBA franchise. Well, after much pacing and group-focusing, Black Entertainment Television founder Bob Johnson’s ownership cabal has announced it will give the nod to Bobcats, Flight, or Dragons.
These choices are vanilla, true, but it could have been worse. Sports Nut feared that Charlotte would be stuck with the Cougars, a noble animal to be sure but a rerun of an old ABA name and yet another cat added to big-league sports’ kitty glut (Tigers, Lions, Panthers, Jaguars, Bengals, et al.). Instead, the nickname mavens tweaked the ears and the stripes and presented Bobcats—apparently, a sly nod toward owner Bob Johnson. Sports Nut has a soft spot for Bobcats, as it was the mascot at Bates Elementary School once upon a time. But then, that’s the problem. Every known elementary school not going by Bobcats is either Cougars or Wildcats or Ocelots or Leopards or Cheetahs or one of the other aforementioned cats.
Bummer, too, about Flight. The problem with such nebulous singular mascots is fans have nary a clue about what they’re cheering. Now, is it a specific flight that’s drawing plaudits? The idea of flight generally? The Wright brothers’ first flight, 100 years ago this December in North Carolina, is the stated inspiration for the name, but most Americans now associate flight with luggage-riflings and groin-region wandings. Flight also has the unfortunate denotation of hauling ass in the face of danger, as in “fight or.” Plus there are the easy derisions—such as “flightweights,” “in-flight meal,” and, in playoff Game 7s, “your flight leaves tonight” —that would find their way onto handmade poster-board signs in NBA arenas nationwide.
Dragons has the distinction of having been chosen, apparently, on its own merits, with no connection to the bossman or home state. (As the Associated Press dryly notes, ” ‘Dragons’ has no obvious local link.”) Dragons will make a cooler logo and mascot than Bobcats or Flight and would bring a much-needed mythical beast to the American pro sports menagerie. Unfortunately it’s stuck with “draggin’ ” as a homophone, and it happens to overlap with the NFL Europe franchise in Barcelona. Of course, no one in this country knows NFL Europe exists, so maybe that’s a wash.
So the choices are essentially between seen it, lame, and seen it. Sports Nut stands by its original proposal of Bankers, a delightfully counterintuitive name that had been submitted in a mascot casting call. But left with a choice between Bobcats, Flight, and Dragons, it has to be a desperation write-in. Besides noticing the lack of local dragons trundling along Tobacco Road, the AP story also noted that at least one other pro sports team was named in tribute to its owner: “The NFL’s Cleveland Browns were named for owner Paul Brown.” Since this name search evidently loves precedent, why not look to the Browns, a team whose fans bleed loyalty, for yet another? Sports Nut would make daily offerings to the basketball gods to hear the words: Ladies and gentlemen, your Charlotte Johnsons!