Though they are not scheduled to play their first game until this fall, an expansion team in the National Basketball League of Canada has already created a furor. That's because officials from the club, based in the nation's capital, announced on February 26 that their franchise would be called the Ottawa TomaHawks.
An immediate backlash ensued over social media, citing the team moniker was offensive and racist towards aboriginal people. By the next day, club officials had announced they would drop the TomaHawks name. Club owner Gus Takkale said he was not at all thinking of an aboriginal tool when deciding on the original team name. Instead, he thought TomaHawks, with a capital H, would be an appropriate name for a basketball squad as it describes a "tomahawk dunk," which is when a player has both hands on the ball, raises it behind his head and then slams the ball through a basket with a slashing motion.
"When you do a tomahawk dunk, that can change the whole momentum of a game," Takkale said. "It brings people out of their seats. It's that excitement we want to bring with our brand of basketball."
The team's now-scrapped TomaHawks logo featured a basketball with wings, signifying a flying hawk. But Takkale said he was floored by the negative reactions to the name TomaHawks.
"We got thousands of e-mails and tweets," he said. "I wasn't expecting that at all. It was a little bit overwhelming the response we got."
Takkale said league officials never contacted him to change the name TomaHawks.
"It was my decision at the end of the day," he said. "I haven't broken any laws or anything like that."
Since others deem the term offensive or racist, Takkale felt it would be best to come up with another team name.
"From my perspective, I didn't mean to insult anybody," he said, adding he himself is a visible minority of Palestinian descent.
The Ottawa franchise has scheduled a news conference for March 14. Takkale though said he's not certain whether a new team name would be announced that day. "At this point we are going back to the drawing board," he said.
"We have a few names we are looking at."
Ottawa will become the fourth Ontario-based franchise in the fledgling league. The others from the province in the league now include the Oshawa Power, London Lightning and Windsor Express. The league also features two clubs from New Brunswick; the Moncton Miracles and the Saint John Mill Rats. Other entrants in the league are the Quebec's Montreal Jazz, the Halifax Rainmen of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island's Summerside Storm. The Canadian league, which was founded in 2011, has a regular season schedule that runs from November through March. Squads are primarily stocked with former NCAA players.