Fast Break To These Facts About WNBA Team Names

Although WNBA season starts May 15 this year and lasts a few short months, a lot of fans would say ball is life. And to that, we'd like to add that talking about basketball words is the spice of that life.

Have you wondered where the WNBA teams found inspiration for their names? From the Dallas Wings to the Minnesota Lynx, there are plenty of winning stories and interesting patterns when it comes to the names of these teams.

Many WNBA teams are named after affiliated NBA teams that share the same home city and pay homage to their hometowns. You also might notice that many of their names are singular and sometimes abstract—the Indiana Fever, for example, as opposed to the state’s football team the Colts. (Why a fever? We'll explain!) The WNBA isn’t alone in this (take, for example, the NBA’s Orlando Magic, or the NHL’s Minnesota Wild), but the WNBA certainly has more than its fair share of distinctive team names.

The league, which started play in 1997 with eight teams, has 12 teams today (with a few teams that have changed names or dropped out). Let's bounce and step into the name game.

Atlanta Dream

Atlanta got its WNBA team, the Atlanta Dream, before the start of the 2008 season. The Dream get their name from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. While the famous speech was made in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, Dr. King was from Atlanta. The city has an NBA team as well, the Hawks, though the two don’t have any affiliation, but they share the color red, which is considered a "unifying color of Atlanta sports."

The Dream is known for their social justice initiatives and leans on Atlanta’s connection to the civil rights movement. As a group, the team has supported organizations like Unite The Vote and Black Lives Matter.

 

Discover more about Black Lives Matter and other influential calls to action that are part of the fabric of US history.

Chicago Sky

It was announced that Chicago was getting a WNBA franchise in 2005, which started with the very straightforward moniker of WNBA Chicago. Before the end of the year, however, the team was named the Chicago Sky, and their colors were formally set as yellow and sky blue. The name and colors are meant to refer to a bright and sunny, blue sky day that highlights the city’s skyline. The logo ties this theme together with the outline of Willis Tower, which is the second tallest building in North America (and certainly makes a tall statement on Chicago’s skyline).

Though the theme is built around sunshine and pretty skylines, Chicago reliably has just one of those things. The longest recorded stretch of completely sunny days in a row in Chicago is 10, and that happened in 1916.

Connecticut Sun

Before there was the Connecticut Sun, there was the Orlando Miracle. The team under the latter name started in 1999 as the affiliated WNBA team for the NBA’s Orlando Magic. The Miracle didn’t last long in Orlando before the team was sold to the Mohegan Tribe after the 2002 season. They changed the name to the Connecticut Sun in reference to the Mohegan Sun resort and casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, which is home to the Mohegan Sun Arena where the team plays. The logo is an interpretation of a Mohegan symbol using the image of a basketball, sunburst, and blue ribbon.

The Connecticut Sun is the only professional basketball team in the state, and is also the first professional sports team to be owned by a Native American tribe.

Dallas Wings

The Dallas Wings started in 2015 when the team moved from Tulsa, where it was known as the Shock (and before that, it was the Detroit Shock). The new name can be a little confusing unless you know your Dallas history or have seen the team logo. Because, while the Dallas–Fort Worth airport is one of the busiest in the world, that has nothing to do with how the Wings got their name. The logo centers Pegasus, a horse with wings, in reference to the Magnolia Oil Company. In 1934, the company installed a neon Pegasus sign on the city’s first skyscraper. Dallas continues to use the Pegasus as a symbol to this day—including for the city’s WNBA team.

Indiana Fever

Indiana is a basketball state. There’s the Indianapolis Pacers NBA team, as well as the Hoosier’s college basketball team, which has won five NCAA championships. Since 2000, Indiana has also had the Fever.

People don’t typically want a fever because the word usually refers to a high temperature from an illness. Indiana Fever, however, refers to the definition of fever that means “intense nervous excitement,” as in, “People in Indiana have basketball fever.”

Las Vegas Aces

If there’s one thing that Las Vegas is known for, it’s gambling. So it makes sense that the city’s WNBA team carries the same name as a poker high card and plays its games at the arena inside the Mandalay Bay casino. It’s not all linked to what happens on the card table, though.

The Aces was previously a team called the Utah Starzz. That team was sold and became the San Antonio Silver Stars, which was shortened to simply the Stars before the team was once again sold and moved to Las Vegas. In the name change announcement, the team said Aces referred to the definition of ace as in superb or excellent. It’s a word commonly used in other sports, too. An ace in golf is a hole-in-one, while an ace in tennis is a serve that isn’t returned. We all want an ace up our sleeve, don't we?

 

Besides ace, what other golf terms should you know? Learn about some of them here!

Los Angeles Sparks

There’s no denying that the Sparks are an important and historic team in WNBA history. In fact, the first WNBA game ever in 1997 was played between the Los Angeles Sparks and the New York Liberty. The Sparks have the same yellow and purple colors as the Los Angeles Lakers (along with some seafoam green), The team mascot, Sparky, is an energetic dog, and their the logo features a palm tree.

The Sparks’ jerseys as of the 2021 season have “Los Angeles” on the front instead of the team name, and the logo only has the letters “LA” surrounding a palm tree.

What makes the LA Sparks so “spark-y”? Perhaps sometimes you just want to go for a dynamic, electrifying name.

And what makes the LA Lakers so, well, “lake-y”? The Los Angeles Lakers kept the reference to lakes in the name after being moved from Minnesota (the “Land of 10,000 Lakes"), despite LA not really being known for any lakes. (They've got the ocean, though!)

Minnesota Lynx

Minnesota’s WNBA team the Lynx is affiliated with the state’s NBA team, the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Lynx came about in 1999, which was 10 years after the founding of the Timberwolves. Perhaps you can spot the connection between the two: both teams are named after a natural Minnesota predator.

Lynx (more specifically, Minnesota is home to the Canadian lynx) are wildcats that get about three feet long and can weigh up to 44 pounds. Though lynx were once more plentiful in forests across northern Minnesota and Maine, their numbers have declined. (Lynx have been a protected species in Minnesota since 1984, and have been labeled a federally threatened species since 2000.)

The WNBA's Minnesota Lynx hasn’t been as threatened as its animal counterpart: the Lynx won four championship titles in the 2010s (the only professional sports team in the US to do so) and got to the finals seven seasons in a row.

New York Liberty

The New York Liberty was one of the eight original WNBA teams when it was founded in 1996, and played the first WNBA game against the Los Angeles Sparks in 1997. Unlike the team’s first opponent, the naming of New York’s team is more obvious. The New York Liberty gets its name from the Statue of Liberty. The team logo is complete with a torch in homage to the statue and as a symbol of enlightenment, while the team’s main color is seafoam green—the Statue of Liberty was a copper color when it was unveiled in 1886, but turned green in just two decades due to the elements.

Phoenix Mercury

The WNBA team in Phoenix, the Mercury, started in 1997 and is affiliated with the city’s NBA team, the Suns (no relation to the Connecticut Sun). Phoenix’s professional basketball team names are closely linked. Whereas the NBA team gets its name from the hot Arizona sun, the WNBA team gets its name from the planet closest to the sun. Mercury also, of course, refers to the metal that was once commonly used to measure how hot the temperature is because it’s the only metal that’s liquid at room temperature. The name lends itself to a “the Mercury is rising” joke whenever the team gets on a hot streak.

 

Mercury knows how to heat things up for us here on Earth in other ways, too. Like when Mercury is in retrograde ...  what does that mean?

Seattle Storm

Seattle took the opposite weather pattern inspiration as Phoenix when it came to naming its WNBA team that was created in 2000. The word storm as a team name does double duty here. When the team was announced, it was said that “storm” is also what the Seattle Storm plan to do to the WNBA. Storm in this case refers to the definition of “to overwhelm and enthral,” as in, the team stormed the league and won the championship.

The name was prescient: as of 2021, the Seattle Storm have won championship titles in 2004, 2010, 2018, and 2020.

Washington Mystics

The Mystics, based in Washington DC, were one of the first eight teams when the WNBA started. Like those other early teams, the Mystics were tied to an NBA team from the start. In this case, it was the Washington Wizards. Magic in the capital seemed to be the theme here. There is a directly correlated word for a female wizard of course that could have fit the theme as well, but witch generally has a negative (and gendered) connotation. A mystic is an enchanting  alternative, as it means “a person who claims to attain, or believes in the possibility of attaining, insight into mysteries transcending ordinary human knowledge.”

Defunct franchises

While some teams were sold to different locations when the city couldn’t sustain them, other teams simply went bust. Six teams have dropped out of the WNBA: the Charlotte Sting (named after the NBA team the Charlotte Hornets), the Cleveland Rockers (the city is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), the Houston Comets (Houston is famous for its space program), the Miami Sol (another sun-related name, this time the Spanish word for sun), the Portland Fire (related to the NBA team the Portland Trail Blazers), and the Sacramento Monarchs (which is tied to the city’s NBA team the Kings).

 

Before you catch your favorite WNBA team's next game, delve deeper into the history of feminism and the waves women have been making for ages.