Further evidence that people are really weird came this week with the resistance to the prospective new NBA team name "New Orleans Pelicans."
In a feat of obliviousness, people hit "enter" on comments pillorying pelicans for their meekness and ridiculing the idea that any "Pelicans" could win an NBA title, even though I distinctively remember some Penguins winning three Stanley Cups in an even tougher sport, back when that sport existed.
When it emerged that the New Orleans Hornets might become the New Orleans Pelicans, some NBA fans sneered even as they walk around day in and day out, week in and week out, year in and year out, among some of the goofiest, most feckless team names imaginable.
Start with Lakers, and forget for a moment that Los Angeles doesn't specialize in lakes. (Minnesota does, thus the origin of the name.) When, I ask you, when, has the idea of people who live around lakes ever inspired any fear to anyone? Oooh, let's not go there tonight! Those people there are lakers!
In fact, you could make a solid case that people who live near lakes are less threatening because of the serenity of the water.
And in fact, a survey of NBA team names reveals that only 10 of 30 -- one-third! -- possess names worthy of fear, and even some of those aren't as fear-worthy as we think they are. The 30 names divide neatly into four categories: Fictional Things (2), Generally Harmless People (8), Potentially Fearsome Beings (10) and Inanimate Things Fearsome Only in Rare Situations (10).
Personally, my favorite category is Inanimate Things Fearsome Only in Rare Situations, but first things first: We need fear neither Wizards nor Magic, because neither of those things is real. That covers that.
Among generally harmless people, Knickerbockers were Dutch settlers who wore pants that rolled up just below the knee. ("Let's get out of here! Look at those guys' pants!") Trail Blazers are people trying to get somewhere, so usually they will not harm you unless you try to impede them, in which case they usually will seek another road anyway (including if you have a league in which middling teams tend to stagnate). "76ers" were our founding fathers, and they met in Philadelphia to set up systems to help resolve peacefully rather than fight. Celtics can be nice or mean, but almost always nice.
Mavericks don't really threaten us -- Steve Jobs, for one, helped us -- and aren't even much of a threat to win elections. Kings can be harmful but mostly out of dunderheaded policy matters, and it's hard to build a good, virile cheer out of policy matters. Lakers are people who live near lakes -- again, ooh -- and the name "Pacers," as devised in 1967, applies both to Indianapolis 500 pace cars and harness racers, neither of which is a problem unless you're dumb enough to lie down on a track.
Yeah, you're running around pillorying pelicans, yet you have lived your entire life amid teams called "Suns," "Nets," and, of course, "Jazz." The sun and the heat -- two teams right there -- are dangerous only if you remain in them too long. Jazz is dangerous only if you're in a place with inadequate laws and wind up staying too long in a nightclub inhaling second-hand smoke. What did a net ever do to anybody other than a fish?
Thunder never hurt anyone and, in fact, serves as the good cop in the sequence.
Who ever stayed home afraid of a spur, a piston or a nugget? And while a rocket can be scary, that's not the kind of rocket Houston meant. (I guess you could say it's fast.) And as for a Clipper, that ship worked very well in the 19th century, but sic one 21st-century battleship or one drone on that thing and watch it disintegrate to shards. Please.
So you see, it takes a long time to get to something with considerable ferocity -- Grizzlies, Bobcats, Timberwolves, Hornets, Hawks, Raptors, Bucks, Bulls, Warriors, Cavaliers -- but even those 10 come with troubling questions.
From Animal Planet: "A non-aggressive bird, the red-tailed hawk is often harassed by other birds, such as owls, crows, magpies, other hawks and even songbirds." (We pause to marvel at the intimidation of songbirds, but that whole passage might have been an oblique reference to Atlanta's 2004-05 team, which went 13-69.) From Survivalworld.com: "Wolves generally kill animals that are the easiest to capture -- young, old or diseased ones." (So basically they feast on 13-69 animals.) From National Geographic, on hornets: "Males are few and have only one real role, mating with the queen. Males typically die soon after their sexual task is complete." (And if you think I'm going anywhere near that one with a pro-athlete metaphor …)
And even this, from National Geographic: "Grizzly bears are powerful, top-of-the-food-chain predators, yet much of their diet consists of nuts, berries, fruit, leaves and roots." (On the other hand, I have seen Zach Randolph play, and I know his diet far exceeds nuts, berries or roots.)
Bucks are herbivores.
Bulls, often, are dinner.
Warriors and Cavaliers and even Raptors, sure, but clearly there's no need to impugn pelicans.
Indeed, a BBC video has made the rounds a bit, showing one of those arrogant pelicans from a London park as it bored of preening for tourists and turned to devour a pigeon. So in that vein I checked with the friend-and-college-classmate-with-the-coolest-career, John, an ornithologist who has researched pheasants in Borneo and flamingos in Latin America and kiwis in New Zealand and OK-you-get-it.
He emailed: "I wouldn't say that pelicans have a mean streak at all, evidenced by the time that I got my head stuck in the pouch of one accidentally and it flailed valiantly to dislodge itself from me (or vice versa). Unfortunately, the inside of a pelican's pouch is rather adhesive and we were stuck together for an uncomfortably long time -- for both of us. In my experience they are rather docile, unless you happen to be a fish near the surface of nearby water."
So pelicans can be discomforting pretty much only if you are a fish or if you happen to get your head stuck in their pouches. Oh yeah, like that's so much less ferocious than a net or a nugget or a spur or somebody with pants rolled up or somebody who lives near a lake.