What's in a name, anyhow?

The best name juxtaposition in sports may belong to the Utah Jazz of the National Basketball Association. ''Jazz'' is really a vestige of the franchise's earlier existence in New Orleans. The club considered finding a more suitable nickname after moving to Salt Lake City three seasons ago, but eventually scratched plans for a name-the-team contest.

The organization came to realize that ''Jazz'' is appealingly distinct. No other college or pro team shares the name, which conjures up the fast-moving, improvisational nature of basketball. And besides, it's a headline writer's dream: ''Jazz Wins With Up-Tempo,'' ''Jazz Goes Flat in Overtime,'' etc.

Utah's adoption of a geographically inappropriate nickname is certainly not unprecedented in the NBA. When the Lakers moved from Los Angeles to Minneapolis in 1960, they kept their name. ''We couldn't call them the Oceaneers,'' owner Bob Short reasoned. ''Besides, we had a lot of trophies . . . with 'Lakers' on them.'' People don't think twice about this nickname anymore, perhaps because it rolls so easily off the tongue.

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