Tim Leiweke, president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE)—the company that owns the Toronto Raptors, along with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and MLS’s Toronto FC—said earlier this week that Raptors management would consider changing the team’s name.
In a press conference introducing new Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leiweke said of a name change, “We’re definitely going to take a look at it. It doesn’t mean we’re committed to it. It means it’s a good conversation.”
The “Raptors” moniker came from a 1994 Canada-wide contest to name the team that would begin play in Toronto in 1995. “Raptors” beat out nine other finalists: Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs, Scorpions, T-Rex, Tarantulas, and Terriers. (The Vancouver franchise, which also entered the league in 1995, ended up using “Grizzlies.”)
While “raptor” refers to a bird of prey, it is also an informal name for the velociraptor, a speedy, medium-sized, carnivorous dinosaur that featured prominently in the hit 1993 movie Jurassic Park (and the Michael Crichton novel of the same name).
Earlier this year the New Orleans Hornets, who had been the Charlotte Hornets from 1998 to 2002, changed their team name to the Pelicans. Last month the Charlotte Bobcats announced plans to become the Hornets, bringing the nickname back to North Carolina.
The Raptors could follow the Bobcats’ lead and adopt the name of a former team. The Toronto Huskies played in the Basketball Association of America (the league that would become the NBA after annexing seven teams from the National Basketball League) during the 1946-47 season. The Raptors franchise considered reviving the Huskies’ name in 1994 but feared it they would have trouble distinguishing their Huskies from Minnesota’s Timberwolves.
There’s a good chance that “Raptors” will survive the re-branding process. At any rate, I’d have to imagine that Toronto fans care more about putting a quality product on the floor than coming up with a better logo or nickname. The Raptors have enjoyed strong attendance numbers throughout the history of the franchise despite the team never winning more than 47 games. Any effort to change the team’s image will need to coincide with unloading Andrea Bargnani, developing Jonas Valančiūnas, and finding a first option more reliable than Rudy Gay or DeMar DeRozan.
On a related note, the Toronto Star is asking readers to come up with new uniform designs to go along with the franchise’s re-branding efforts. Here’s a template if you want to participate.