We come to you today to praise the memory of the Swamp Dragons, who are part of NBA lore but not part of NBA history. They were so close to being real – at least as real as a nickname and mascot could be.
But they were extinguished at the last minute, and the only part of them that lives is a logo.
Swamp Dragons was the idea of marketing zealot Jon Spoelstra (yes, he’s Erik’s dad), who was one of many creative people who tried to make the Nets pertinent in New Jersey during their 36-year history in the Garden State. Like everyone else, he found more frustration than success.
In the mid-90s, there was a trend towards comic book-type logos, best represented by the Toronto Raptors’ logo. Spoelstra, the Nets’ president at the time, had the idea that changing logos would help boost the Net’s image. The preferred name was Dragons, but there were apparently some copyright problems and so Spoelstra – noting that the Nets’ home court at the Meadowlands was built on a swamp – decided on the name Swamp Dragons.
The talented people at NBA creative services created a sensational logo and it likely would have tremendously boosted t-shirt sales, especially in grades 1-6 (but aren’t those future ticket buyers?).
The details were written in a report by Andy Vasquez in the Bergen Record in April when Spoelstra told the story of the name change being rejected because one of the Nets owners had second thoughts at the last minute. So all other NBA teams approved the change and the Nets voted against themselves.
That symbolizes Nets’ history perfectly. They were always their own worst enemy.
That story came to mind when it was reported last week that the Hornets had decided to change their name to Pelicans.
The Hornets tried to slow the story, saying nothing was official yet, but there has not been one time in the history of sports teams leaking nicknames that such a story hasn’t been accurate – so it’s a done deal.
The name apparently has met with mixed reviews, which is kind of strange because Hornets is not exactly classic New Orleans.
I think Pelicans is a great name. I happened to know the pelican was the state bird of Louisiana not because I’m a dork who has all state birds memorized, but because I read John Grisham books and the “Pelican Brief” was a great one. (Plus the movie starred Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington. What’s not to like?)
Some of the negative reaction I saw and heard involved a minor league baseball team once named the Pelicans, which beings out the inner Derrick Coleman in me – whoop-de-damn-do. And someone incorrectly pointed out that pelicans aren’t exactly intimidating. From what I’ve read, they can get pretty nasty when diving after fish, even irritating commercial fisherman.