THE DEN

‘Here’s the dribble. Harden drops back and sinks a 3-pointer from Sugar Land,” says the announcer.

As you can guess, I am watching the Houston Rockets on TV. Here’s the interesting part: They are playing NOLA. That’s what it says right across the opposing team’s jerseys.

Who or what is NOLA? Sounds like a federal agency, like NOAA or OSHA. They could be the team from the National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History, or the Network of Literary Archives. Houston being an oil city, maybe this is an international game against opponents from the Nippon Oil Lubricants (America).

I’ve got it. North of Latin America. That’s us. We’re north of Latin America and south of Canada.

But the TV schedule says the Rockets are playing New Orleans, the Pelican State (even has a pelican on its state flag). Their jerseys don’t read “New Orleans” or “Pelicans”; before, the franchise was named the New Orleans Hornets, after it moved from Charlotte, North Carolina.

All of this changing cities led to one of the strangest sports team names in America. The original New Orleans franchise moved to Salt Lake City and kept the name — get ready — Jazz. Salt Lake City is undoubtedly the least jazziest city in America.

OK, now I understand. NOLA is the rather new short version for New Orleans, Louisiana. NOLA? Get it? That’s a good short-order title, sort of like Frisco, Santone and Wax-a-Hatch (I made up that one).

At this point, you are wondering: Who cares? Well, it’s about city’s nicknames — your city — and what it tells others about branding, marketing and advertising itself. Some cities have most appropriate nicknames, like Rome, “The Eternal City”; Paris, “City of Light”; Wuhan, China, “Don’t Breathe.”

Here in America we have Los Angeles, “La-La Land” or “The City of Angels”; Boston, “Beantown”; Denver, “Mile High City”; Las Vegas, “Sin City,” with its naughty slogan, “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.” Everyone knows what “The Windy City” is. Even New Orleans has monikers: “The Big Easy” and “Crescent City.” One of the most popular nicknames is NYC’s “The Big Apple.”

Some cities have more than a title but also a slogan. Walla Walla, Washington: “The city so nice they named it twice.” Gas, Kansas: “Don’t pass Gas, stop and enjoy it.” “Weed, California: “Weed like to welcome you.” Hooker, Oklahoma: “It’s a location, not a vocation.”

Texas cities have some excellent nicknames and slogans. Fort Worth likes to promote its Western heritage, calling itself “Cowtown.” San Antonio (or Santone) is the “Alamo City.” We have “Waco: The Buckle of the Bible Belt.” Dallas has long been known as “Big D.” Indeed, there is a song from the Broadway musical, “Most Happy Fella,” that goes: “You’re from Big D, I Can Tell,” (with the line: “say ‘Neiman Marcus’”).

Many Texas towns claim to be “The Spinach/Turkey/Wine Root Stock Capital of the World.” We have “The People’s Republic of Austin.” “Happy, The Town Without a Frown,” and I like “Eagle Pass, Where Yee-Ha Meets Ole.” Then there are some that puzzle: “Amarillo, The Big Brown Flat City,” and “Bomb City,” due to the proximity of the Pantex plant that is the nation’s primary facility to assemble and disassemble nuclear weapons, and “Huntsville: Execution Capital of the World.”

This brings us to Houston, which has never had a catchy nickname or slogan. Beginning in 1913, we used, “Houston: Where Seventeen Railroads Meet the Sea,” which must have made for one big splash. We have tried, “Space City,” “Houston’s Hot,” “Houston Proud” and “Bayou City,” which is good except at high tide. We might salute our answer to traffic congestion and our solutions: “Houston, Concrete Capital of the World.” Or our atmosphere: “Houston, on a clear day you can see your feet.” Considering recent developments on the diamond: “We’ll steal your heart, and your catcher’s signals.”

Another thought: “Houston, Gateway to Galena Park.”

The latest attempt is “H-Town,” which now graces the Rockets’ jerseys. I like that one, if it catches on. But what if a Nets fan in Brooklyn (“BKLYN” on their joy-seys) attends a game against the Rockets? “Are they from Hampton? Hoedown? Is there a Houstown?”

Back to the TV: “The Beard spins, goes for the alley-oop from downtown but gets nothin’ but net and Clutch goes wild, then the shake and bake. Big J goes coast-to-coast …” I need a translator.

Lynn Ashby is a Houston-based columnist. Contact him at ashby2@comcast.net.

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