Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder Compete for “Collective Plural” NBA Finals Championship

When you first hear the phrases “Miami Heat” and “Oklahoma City Thunder” do you assume someone is talking about the weather?


Well, if you do, you would be wrong. As right as that might sound, you would, in fact be wrong: On Tuesday, June 12, 2012 the NBA Finals (the  the championship series of the National Basketball Association) begin with the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder (formerly the Seattle SuperSonics) vying for the title.

For full disclosure: I am a Boston Celtics fan so, given that the Heat beat them to advance to the championship game, I am rooting for the Thunder (my enemy’s enemy is my friend). Although, last year I was also rooting against the Heat and for the Dallas Mavericks, so maybe I am just not a fan of “heat” in general? Well, maybe if it is a “dry heat.”

Allegiances aside, the one aspect to this match-up that, as a writer and teacher, I find fascinating, is that the names of both teams are what is called a “collective noun.”

According to Grammar Girl, collective nouns — of which there are approximately 200 that take a singular or a plural verb — are “nouns that describe a group, such as ‘family,’ ‘orchestra,’ and ‘board.'” Another source further explains “collective nouns, a special class, name groups [things] composed of members [usually people].”

One of the fundamental aspects to collective nouns is that Americans generally treat them as single units (e.g. “the faculty is meeting today”) whereas in England, they are considered plural units (e.g. “Cambridge are winning the boat race.”).

According to another source: “the names of sports teams, on the other hand, are treated as plurals, regardless of the form of that name.” Therefore, you would write “the Boston Red Sox are the best baseball team in the world” and not “the Boston Red Sox is the best baseball team in the world” (another disclosure: I am a Red Sox fan).

Likewise when you refer to a team by the city in which it is located, you use the singular form of the noun: “Boston has attempted to secure the services of two assistant coaches that New York hopes to keep.”

For reasons beyond my knowledge there seems to be a growing trend towards sports teams using names that are collective nouns. But why? Perhaps there are a finite number of traditional plural nouns after which you can name a team?

A list of some teams from U.S. professional sports leagues —  Arena Football League (AFL), Major League Soccer (MLS), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) — and a couple of noteworthy college teams whose names are collective nouns include the following:

  • Atlanta Dream (WNBA)
  • Chicago Fire (MLS)
  • Chicago Rush (AFL)
  • Chicago Sky (WNBA)
  • Colorado Avalanche (NHL)
  • Columbus Crew (MLS)
  • Connecticut Sun (WNBA)
  • D.C. United (MLS)
  • Georgia Force (AFL)
  • Harvard Crimson
  • Houston Dynamo (MLS)
  • Indiana Fever (WNBA)
  • Kansas City Command (AFL)
  • Miami Heat (NBA)
  • Minnesota Wild (NHL)
  • Montreal Impact (MLS)
  • New England Revolution (MLS)
  • New Orleans VooDoo (AFL)
  • New York Liberty (WNBA)
  • Oklahoma City Thunder (NBA)
  • Orlando Magic (NBA)
  • Philadelphia Soul (AFL)
  • Phoenix Mercury (WNBA)
  • Pittsburg Power (AFL)
  • Seattle Storm (WNBA)
  • Spokane Shock (AFL)
  • Stanford Cardinal
  • Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL)
  • Tampa Bay Storm (AFL)
  • Tulsa Shock (WNBA)
  • Utah Blaze (AFL)
  • Utah Jazz (NBA)

I am by no means a grammar expert, despite my having earned a BA in English (with a creative writing emphasis) from UC Santa Barbara. However, having been writing since as far back as I can remember, I have a general feel for what would be considered “good” grammar. And, while they might be perfectly proper grammatically speaking, collective nouns as team names just sound awkward to me.

From a branding perspective, in my opinion, these types of team names sound odd. I believe a team name simply sounds better as a standard plural noun. Maybe I am “old school” but then again, if you look at the preponderance of team names that are collective nouns they are generally associated with newer organizations.

Another common preference in team names is alliteration — when you use words that sound the same (e.g. Boston Bruins — again, for full disclosure, I am a fan), so, given that, perhaps there are a limited number of options to achieve that branding goal?

Maybe I am the only one — or one of very few — who noticed this trend in team names, but it nevertheless strikes me as something about which a discussion is at least relevant. Is it something you previously noticed and about which you wondered?

Speaking of Grammar: if you are not a fan of either team in this year’s NBA Finals, consider watching the 2000 movie Company Man (affiliate link) instead. According to Wikipedia, the plot of the film is as follows:

In the 1960s, Alan Quimp is a school teacher of English grammar and married with the very demanding woman Daisy Quimp. In order to avoid the constant mockery in Daisy’s family, Alan says that he is a secret CIA agent. Daisy tells everybody, the CIA acknowledges the lie, but due to a coincidence, Alan has just helped and hidden the professional Russian dancer Petrov who wanted to leave Russia. The CIA decides to hire Alan as an agent, to get the credits of bringing Petrov to USA, and immediately decides to send him to a very calm place, Cuba.

A humorous, grammar-laden scene from the film follows — enjoy:

So, in regards to (with regard to?) the information above, who (whom?) do you want to win the 2012 NBA Finals?