Sunday, January 24, 2010

name game

The New Jersey Nets have been on my mind. If they ever do actually relocate to Brooklyn, will they forgo their ABA appellation and opt for something with more attack? A recent Bill Simmons podcast posits it's not often you run across a sports team named after a piece of sports equipment. This comment spurred me on to the ABA Wikipedia page and subsequent scrutiny of originally ABA team names.

Let's be honest people, a lot of the names on that roster are totally phoned in. The Oakland Americans who became the Oakland Oaks? The Memphis Pros? The Floridians? The San Diego Sails? I have a hunch the Christening of these teams resembled the episode of the Brady Bunch when Cindy Brady fibs to her family, claiming she has a steady boyfriend. When pressed for his name she searchingly answers, "Um.... George...." [Frantically scans the room. Locks eyes on the water glass in front of her.] GLASS. George Glass." Which makes me think of the equally absurd Hail Mary name moment in A Fish Called Wanda when Otto (Kevin Kline) introduces himself to Archie Leach (John Cleese) as a CIA agent "Harvey Manfren... jen...sen."

It's essentially like me walking into a 1967 ABA meeting and saying, "Gentlemen. The next addition to our growing league will be in Idaho. They will be called, um, The Yes, The Boise Boys Basketball Players."

I think a lot about team names. I think my formative team sport experience mandates it.

In second grade I joined AYSO's "co-ed" (read: one girl per team) soccer league. Most of my classmates joined the season prior and returned from their first team meetings all a flutter about their flinty titles and splashy team colors.

Classmate one: We're the Golden Eagles! We're bright yellow and white!
Classmate two: Well we're the Blue Devils! We're royal blue and black!

I looked completely forward to my own bragging session. When I attended my initial meeting, however, our coach—the gentle, amiable South African father of one of my schoolmates—slide tackled us with the following opening statement: "Welcome to the 1982 fall season of AYSO soccer. I am Coach Eric. You, boys and girl, will be known as: THE ZULU WARRIORS, named after a very important South African people. Your colors are grey and black."

The room of seven year olds fell cricket-chirping silent.


The next day at school I didn't even know HOW to talk about what happened because I felt completely confused. I couldn't even ask questions about it because I didn't know any of the questions to ask. I knew I had my hopes pinned on being called The Red Arrows. That's where the ball stopped rolling.

Our first practice we felt further befuddled when informed we would sing the following team chant before and after every scrimmage and game:

Hold 'em dooooown, ya Zulu Warriors!
Hold 'em dooooown , ya Zulu Chief-Chief-Chief Chief
Hoi da zumba zumba, hoi da zumba zumba zee
Hoi da zumba zumba, hoi da zumba zumba ZEE!

Recounting this memory, I completely grasp it was a totally exceptional experience and relish every dimension of it. As a tiny second grade girl dressed like a newspaper I wasn't so optimistic.

We definitely caused a stir the moment we set foot on Chicago Park District's Margate Park Field and kicked off with our pregame cheer. The parents proudly smiled. The opposing team stared at our singing huddle, totally perplexed. After we were summarily demolished—most likely by double digit goals—and gathered round for the encore performance of our team anthem, our adversaries were full-on giggling like crazy at us. That set the tone for the season: Lose once, chant twice, always be laughed at by all other second graders every Saturday.

Coach Eric was ever patient, always enthusiastic, never fazed by looks askance, never doubting we were champions, and always so proud of each one of us as we completely sucked throughout the season. I like to think of him as the Rex Ryan of 1982. Except we never won games, and never advanced to a championship. He was just happy we were there. And honestly, his enthusiasm was totally contagious. The more we lost and the more we were misunderstood, the more our own team pride anchored. I still have my end-of-the-season award: A giant button stating "MOST ENTHUSIASTIC PLAYER: JULIA RYDHOLM, ZULU WARRIOR."

If the Nets do make it to Brooklyn, they could use some sure-footed counsel from Coach Eric. One thing's completely certain: His selection for the new team sobriquet would assuredly be a slam dunk.

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